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Not much learned from Florida Gators' season-opening rout

GAINESVILLE — The offense has some speed. The defense has some strength. Dare we say it, but the quarterback may finally have a clue.

Oh, the new head coach has a victory.

It wasn't exciting, and it wasn't definitive, and it won't matter much when it comes to the team's final grade. For Florida, fresh off a mess of a football season, however, it will have to do.

No, there weren't a lot of answers Saturday night. In these mild-sweat openers, there never are. There are hints and clues, maybe a promise or a suggestion. Even after a 41-3 victory, it is hard to determine just how good Florida is, because it is hard to determine just how awful Florida Atlantic is. My suspicions are that Florida has a chance and FAU has none, but that leaves a lot of room in the middle, doesn't it?

Say this for the Gators, though. They won comfortably. The head coach was enthusiastic. The players seemed to fit the plan.

And when is the last time Florida fans were able to say any of that about their team?

The real questions will wait, of course. The Gators will have to be better by the time Tennessee rolls into town in two weeks. With Alabama and LSU and Auburn and Georgia and South Carolina and FSU all on the schedule, we will soon learn the truth about this Florida team.

For now, the Gators needed a night like this. They needed a designated victim. They needed John Brantley to look like a passer again. Along the way, they needed to give Will Muschamp, Coach Boom, a victory. They needed to leave the impression this can happen a lot more times during the season.

The night's report card? Check, check, check, check and check back, won't you?

For Muschamp, it was the first victory of his career. But let's face it, there wasn't much doubt about that. Florida won the game on the day it was scheduled.

Gator coaches always win big in their opener, even Ron Zook, whose fine hello lasted all the way until the second week of his career. Urban Meyer won his first game in lopsided fashion, and Steve Spurrier won his, and so forth. You have to go back to Charley Pell to find a Florida coach who lost his first game, and heck, that year, Pell didn't win any.

That said, Muschamp didn't do anything to spoil the love affair he seems to inspire from Florida fans. It is unclear whether a new coach has ever replaced a two-time national champion and had so many fans regard it as an upgrade, but Meyer seemed to wear on his most loyal followers last year, when he seemed so unfocused on the sideline. Perhaps much of that had to do with his health, but by the end of the season, a lot of UF fans didn't feel so good themselves.

Muschamp's job is to restore the teeth of the Gators, and he will tell you that sooner sounds better than later. Certainly, with Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, Florida has enough speed in the backfield. And the defensive front, which allowed less than 1 yard per rushing attempt, should be sturdy enough.

But what about the receivers? What about the secondary? What about the offensive line?

For crying out loud, what about the quarterback?

If there was a bright spot for the Gators on Saturday night, it was that Brantley seemed to know where he should go with the ball, and how quickly he should do it. That was rarely the case last season, when he seemed lost. Florida didn't help him with a plan that seemed to be trying to avoid him until it was third and 13, then bringing him in to throw into crowded secondaries.

Against FAU, Brantley hit 21 of 30 passes, and most of the time, he threw in rhythm. True, his numbers (229 yards) were fattened by an FAU defense that seemed completely unaware of the swing pass. And he did throw an ugly interception in the third quarter.

Still, Brantley had a few moments that urge your reconsideration. He had a fine throw rolling left and throwing a dart to Jordan Reed for an 11-yard gain. He had another fine sideline throw to Reed for 13 yards on a third and 4. He didn't make those throws before Charlie Weis came to town.

No, the opponent couldn't match Florida's talent. As eager as the SEC seems to be to add teams, FAU isn't in the running. Things are going to get testier, and answers are going to come harder.

For Florida fans, however, it was a start.

After last season, perhaps it was time for a fresh one.

Not much learned from Florida Gators' season-opening rout 09/03/11 [Last modified: Saturday, September 3, 2011 11:25pm]
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