GAINESVILLE — After observing his team's struggles throughout August preseason practice and realizing how much talented personnel had to be replaced, Florida coach Urban Meyer didn't arrive at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday expecting a masterful performance.
In fact, he was pretty sure the Gators would have their share of trouble.
But as a 361/2-point favorite against an undermanned Miami (Ohio) team, Meyer expected much better than what he got.
No. 4 Florida escaped with a 34-12 win, but its abysmal offensive performance — including eight fumbles — put a pall over the victory and had the Gators vowing to get better as they prepare to host USF next weekend.
"I'm very disappointed," Meyer said. "There's a sense of urgency. I felt it in the locker room. There should be, and we'll come back (today) and work hard. That's what we do around here: work hard and try to get better."
Quarterback John Brantley's debut in the post-Tim Tebow era was marred by offensive mistakes. Senior offensive lineman and converted center Mike Pouncey struggled all day with the snap from the shotgun formation. On Florida's second series of the third quarter, Brantley had consecutive fumbles caused by bad snaps.
The subsequent 27-yard punt by Chas Henry led to a 31-yard field goal that pulled Miami, 1-11 last season and 2-10 in 2008, to within 21-9 with 6:33 remaining in the quarter.
Pouncey had four bad snaps that hit the ground for a total of minus-55 yards, and he had numerous others (all from the shotgun formation) that forced Brantley to reach for the ball, putting the quarterback off balance.
"The ball just kept slipping out of my hand," said Pouncey, one of the team's captains. "I don't even know how … it just kept slipping out. We'll have it fixed by next week."
Before junior Jeff Demps rolled off a 72-yard touchdown run with 12:31 remaining in the game, the Gators had managed just 25 total yards of offense. They led 21-6 at halftime but had just 13 total yards and minus-18 rushing. The Gators had four first downs in the half, and one of their three touchdowns was scored by the defense: a 67-yard interception return by cornerback Janoris Jenkins.
UF was stunned at halftime.
"It was bad. We were trying to motivate each other," Pouncey said. "We just weren't playing as an offense. We couldn't get anything going. It's part of my fault we couldn't get the offense going with the snaps. I'll be in (today) to fix it. I pride myself on being great, and that just killed me. I didn't play great. It won't happen again."
UF finished with 99 rushing yards, and Brantley was 17-of-25 for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
"Stuff happens, and you've got to bounce back from that," Brantley said. "I think that's what we learned; how to bounce back when things are going bad. We're going to fix that snapping up, and we're going to be fine."
In their defense — if there can be one — the Gators played 15 freshmen. Among the 22 starters, only four played the same position as last season. That's why Meyer said he saw this coming — to a certain extent: "I sensed it; just when you see so many new guys out there playing. But I didn't imagine the offensive incompetence that we experienced."
For Brantley, it wasn't the career beginning he hoped for. But ultimately, the redshirt junior was just happy to get the win and hopes to begin to work his way out of Tebow's shadow.
"I'm just happy to get that first game out of the way; first-game jitters and new offense," he said. "I think we'll definitely build off this game and get a lot better. … It wasn't our day, but we did a lot of great things out there. And we'll learn from our mistakes, just like any other team would."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]