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.