Miami (Ohio)-Florida Preview

With Tim Tebow no longer at quarterback, Florida is going to
have a new look and feel in 2010.

Coach Urban Meyer is concerned about that, he hopes his team can
get the kinks worked out in the first few games.

The inexperienced and banged-up fourth-ranked Gators open the
season Saturday against Miami of Ohio, which finished with just one
win a year ago.

At this time last year, Florida was focused on repeating after
winning a national championship in 2008. Those aspirations fell
short with a 32-13 loss to Alabama in the SEC title game, but the
Tebow-era ended on a positive note with a 51-24 victory over
Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl.

Tebow, a three-time Heisman Trophy finalist, is the most
noticeable name missing from last season’s 13-1 team, but the
Gators are also without several other playmakers – including
linebacker Brandon Spikes, tight end Aaron Hernandez and cornerback
Joe Haden.

“I’m hitting the panic button a little bit,” said Meyer, who
briefly resigned in late December, citing health concerns. “We’ve
got to get better faster than what we are right now.”

Meyer’s worries stem from injuries to his offensive and
defensive lines, resulting in inconsistency from both units, and
several highly touted freshmen failing to meet expectations.

Florida’s recruiting class was ranked among the best in the
country, but some of the most-highly touted freshmen – defensive
linemen Ronald Powell, Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd, and
receivers Quinton Dunbar and Chris Dunkley – haven’t totally
impressed Meyer.

“I was actually a little disappointed in some of them because I
thought they’d go take a spot,” Meyer said. “A few of the guys are
doing decent. … Some of those big-name guys, I thought we’d have
some guys cracking the lineup right now. But they’re not yet.”

The offensive line is also a bit banged-up with starting left
tackle Xavier Nixon (right knee) and backup Matt Patchan (right
wrist) out for the opener. That has resulted in some shifting on
the line and chemistry problems.

The team hopes the injured offensive linemen will be healthy for
the Gators’ SEC opener at Tennessee on Sept. 18.

“If all our guys that are supposed to be playing aren’t going,
then we’re in panic mode,” said center Mike Pouncey, a first-team
All-SEC selection last season. “We want all our guys to get back
healthy and then come back, especially by Week 3.”

Despite Meyer’s early concerns, Florida should still have enough
talent to get past the RedHawks.

John Brantley has the difficult task of taking over at
quarterback, but he proved to be solid in mop-up duty last season,
completing 36 of 48 passes for 410 yards with seven touchdowns and
no interceptions.

Having the dynamic Jeff Demps at running back should take some
of the pressure off Brantley.

Demps, the NCAA champion in the 60-meter dash and the 100
meters, is dangerous in the open field. The junior has rushed for
1,350 yards and 14 touchdowns over the last two seasons, and his
average of 7.6 yards per carry puts him on pace to shatter the
school record of 6.4 set by Eli Williams (1994-97).

“You can’t win our conference if you can’t run the ball,” said
offensive coordinator Steve Addazio, one of four new coaches on
Meyer’s staff. “You better be tough, you better be able to run it
and you better have balance. If you don’t have those three
components, you’ve got problems.”

Miami is fully aware of the problems that stem from an inability
to run the ball.

The RedHawks had the second-worst rushing offense in the
Football Bowl Subdivision last season, averaging only 70.1 yards.
They finished 1-11 in the first season under Michael Haywood, and
are 3-21 since 2008. The Gators went 26-2 over the same
stretch.

Haywood, formerly Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator before
arriving at Miami, has eight offensive starters back including
quarterback Zac Dysert, who passed for 2,611 yards with 12
touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

The RedHawks won the only meeting between these programs – a
16-7 victory in the 1973 Tangerine Bowl – but going 2-0 against
Florida seems unlikely.

The Gators have won 20 consecutive season openers and their last
13 at Florida Field. They’ve also won 15 straight over unranked
opponents, while Miami has been outscored by an average of 28.0
points while losing five in a row to Top 25 teams since a 49-27 win
over then-No. 20 Bowling Green in 2003.