No. 8 Florida seeking better performance vs. Bulls
Separated by a two-hour drive on Interstate-75, South Florida and Florida have long been considered potential football rivals.
Fans clamored for the in-state game. Players welcomed the challenge. Officials began talks more than a decade ago. But when the meeting finally developed in 2002, it got bumped a short time later.
It's here now, and it might be coming at the best - or worst - possible time for the Bulls.
The eighth-ranked Gators are hoping to rebound Saturday from one of their most dreadful offensive performances in coach Urban Meyer's six seasons in Gainesville. Are they susceptible to an upset? Or are they primed to take out a week's worth of frustration on the Bulls?
''Tough times don't last,'' Florida center Mike Pouncey said. ''Tough people do, and we're moving on.''
The Gators can't wait to put last week's debacle behind them. They botched several snaps, fumbled eight times and finished with just 212 yards - the second-lowest offensive output in Meyer's tenure. It came against Miami (Ohio), a team that went 1-11 last season and came into the opener as a five-touchdown underdog.
Quarterback John Brantley, making his first start after waiting three years behind Tim Tebow, misfired on a few passes and bobbled two snaps. Receivers Deonte Thompson and Carl Moore dropped balls. Even senior kicker Caleb Sturgis missed a field goal and hooked an extra point.
Florida's biggest concern following the 34-12 victory was ball security. Pouncey bungled three snaps, resulting in one fumble. Chris Rainey, Emmanuel Moody and Mike Gillislee also put the ball on the ground.
Pouncey took blame for his obvious miscues, then spent extra time working with Brantley to perfect their shotgun snaps. Pouncey wound up changing his hand position, hoping to get a better grip in sweaty conditions.
''All of those things that showed up, we're addressing them and they are going to be heavy, heavy on our practice list and really emphasized because that's what you do,'' offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said. ''I don't care what business it is. If something shows, you are right on that thing, 'Let's do everything in our power to make sure that is operating at a much higher more efficient level than it did.'
''That's what it is. I can tell you it's some secret. It's just not.''
South Florida coach Skip Holtz doesn't expect the Gators to be nearly as inept this weekend. He pointed out Brantley's completion percentage (68), Florida's rushing yards without the fumbles (7.25 yards a carry) and the team's defensive performance (four interceptions and 4 yards rushing) against the RedHawks.
''Everybody right now is saying it's broke after last week's performance,'' Holtz said. ''They won by 22 points.''
Holtz knows Meyer well. He introduced Meyer to his father, former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, and helped him get a job with the Fighting Irish in 1995. They have remained close since, exchanging notes, offering each other advice and building a close bond.
They were supposed to square off in 2001, when Meyer was at Bowling Green and Holtz at South Carolina. But the game was canceled because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
''So I've never had the opportunity to stand across the sideline from him,'' Holtz said.
He'll get his shot Saturday. The Gators don't know what to expect, either.
With a new coaching staff, South Florida manhandled Stony Brook 59-14 last week with fairly vanilla formations and schemes.
B.J. Daniels threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns, and added a rushing score. He certainly got Florida's attention, as players dubbed him ''Baby Vick.''
Daniels already has a victory at Florida State. Beating the Gators would do even more for a relatively young program trying to move up the state's college football hierarchy and earn a Bowl Championship Series berth. Not everyone sees it that way, though.
''It's not a shocker mindset,'' Daniels said. ''We just go in with an attitude that can't nobody stop us but us. We're not worried about too much of them or any other team we face.''