If there’s one thing that’s clear from this weekend, it’s that Urban Meyer is not planning on doing any more campaigning for BCS prizes. He’s going for style points with abandon, and is not having any more NFL-type victories where just winning is the only concern. When it comes down to it, the years have conditioned people who evaluate college football to look at margin of victory whether they like to admit it or not, and a 59-20 victory will carry more weight with pollsters than a 35-20 win will, and therein lies the problem – it’s all about impressing pollsters. But that’s another issue entirely.
That was probably the second-most complete performance by a Florida team since Urban got here, next to the BCS Championship Game against Ohio State. The defense played surprisingly well, so much so that it surprised Urban himself. To hold Tennessee to just 37 yards was incredible, and something I would not have believed if you tried to tell me that before the game. Clint McMillan and Javier Estopinan finally got some push up the middle, which definitely helped. The Gators also got some timely turnovers, something that was a hallmark of last year’s team. You really have to hand it to the Gators’ defensive coaching staff for getting the guys ready and keeping them focused throughout the game. These guys will be scary good next year.
The offense that we saw is what everyone has been waiting for ever since Florida fans started watching 2004 Utah highlights wanting to see what their new coach was going to do on offense. Tim Tebow played beyond his years, with his only big mistake (the interception) apparently being because Riley Cooper didn’t run the proper route. It was nice to see that the Meyer spread option can work against n SEC defense.
Then again, some might argue that Tennessee doesn’t have a real SEC offense this year, and for the most part those people would be right. The Vols’ defense just isn’t where it has been in years past. Some of Tebow’s throws would have been intercepted or at least knocked down against a top-flight defense. The first down pass to Kestahn Moore when Moore was coming back and made a diving catch comes to mind. After a fourth of the season, Tennessee is 90th in rushing defense, 95th in passing defense, and 102nd in total defense. Part of that is from playing Cal and Florida, the owners of two of the best offenses in the country, and UT will climb in the rankings after playing Arkansas State, Georgia, and Mississippi State in the next three games. Still, Tennessee’s defense is startlingly vulnerable.
The receivers definitely stepped up in the absence of Andre Caldwell, with Percy Harvin having probably his best game as a Gator and Cornelius Ingram coming up huge as well. It was nice to see Tebow throwing in Riley Cooper’s direction again, after Cooper had only one ball thrown his way against Troy. I guess the idea was that they wanted to make Tennessee think that the deep balls against WKU were only thrown because it was WKU and that against better competition the Gators wouldn’t loft it deep. Eschewing the long ball for short slants and bubble screens was one of the (many) things that turned a lot of Gator fans against the Zook regime, and it was a bone of contention last year up until the team won the SEC title. Even though Tebow threw the ball just 19 times, Florida fans left the game buzzing more about the passing game than the rushing game that had 46 carries.
Mark Schlabach has already proclaimed 2007 Florida as better than the title team from last year. I wouldn’t go that far quite yet, based on how dominant the defense was last year. Certainly the offense is worlds more efficient, the defense still could use some work. Plus, we haven’t even seen them on the road yet. This weekend at Ole Miss won’t provide much of a test, but at least it’s outside the state. The games at Kentucky and at LSU will provide much better tests.
No matter, Florida passed its first test in a big way, and anytime you beat Tennessee by margins not see since Herschel Walker was patrolling the SEC, it’s a good weekend. Go Gators!