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September 6, 2011MORE FROM THE OPENING WEEKEND: Scout's Eye View: Breaking down big plays | What we learned: Week 1 | Photo Gallery: Scenes from Saturday | Monday Notebook: Muschamp reviews the big win | Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down | Defense dominates in win | Muschamp Era begins with a victory | Florida unleashes dynamic duo | Class of 2011 who played | Florida Football Approval Ratings | In the Alley - Game Day Thread | Starting DT Floyd ineligible | VOTE: Alley Gator of the Game | Chomp Talk: At the half notes
With one spin move, Chris Rainey declared 2011 to be his year.
Despite his 7.2 yards-per-rush average entering this season, Rainey's previous four years in Gainesville have arguably been more about injury and scandal than his on the field production.
The senior from Lakleland came to play in the spread option, but his first night in a pro offense indicates he'll fit in just fine. Rainey carried the ball 11 times for 84 yards, including his highlight reel spin move touchdown in the second quarter. FAU ignored Rainey as a threat in the flat and the one-time wide receiver made the Owls pay, notching six receptions for a team-high 67 yards and one touchdown.
Saturday was Rainey's first career three-TD game. In this offense, it may not be his last.
Whether in pass coverage or making the tackle, Lerentee McCray seemed to always be in the middle of the action on Saturday.
In addition to his four tackles, McCray proved to be better than adequate in pass defense in solidifying his role as the starting strongside linebacker.
McCray's four total tackles were tied for second on the team. McCray had two tackles for loss, one assisted and one unassisted.
McCray has played both defensive end and outside linebacker in his career, and has continued to work at both in the off season. The defense of Will Muschamp and Dan Quinn, that blurs the line between the two positions, seems to be a natural fit for McCray who looked at home in both the 4-3 base and the 3-4 look.
True freshman fullback Hunter Joyer may not be listed on the stat sheet, but he's the guy on the game film delivering block after block.
When Trey Burton left the game with injury, Joyer filled in and played a more traditional fullback role than Burton's all purpose "f-back." The true freshman delivered many important blocks and cleared the way for speedsters Rainey and Jeff Demps.
John Brantley's 21-for-30 for 229 yards passing performance looks good in the context of his time as the starting quarterback at Florida. The fact that Rainey and Demps accounted for nine receptions is more telling of how the UF passing game looked.
Brantley had the option to check down to the flat all night, and he took advantage. Rainey led the Orange and Blue with six catches and Demps was one of three Gators with three receptions. Two running backs with adequate hands and home-run speed will not be left wide open by competent defenses.
It was an effective way to manage the game, but the jury is still out on Brantley as an SEC quarterback. If he does not have the option to check down to the flat, 21-for-30 might be a statistical anomaly for the 2011 season.
ON THE RISE
[Normally you would think of this as a spot for a younger, unproven player. However, though he is a senior, Deonte Thompson has had his share of critics during his UF career. No one doubts the wide out's speed, but inability to establish himself as a reliable target has held him back as a receiver.
Brantley threw to No. 6 four times on Saturday and Thompson held on for two difficult catches. It was the most anyone could ask of him as one throw was intercepted and the other too low to catch.
ON THE BUBBLE
With his size and experience, Omar Hunter should be part of the defensive line rotation. If Saturday's game is an indication of the rest of the season, Hunter is in danger of fading into obscurity.
Dominique Easley and Jaye Howard have clearly established themselves as the top dogs at nose guard and tackle positions. Even in Sharrif Floyd's absence, Ronald Powell, William Green and Lerentee McCray provided pressure from the outside, meaning it is doubtful an athletic tackle gets moved.
After spending 2010 as a backup quarterback, it appears as though Jordan Reed just might be the real deal at tight end. He went airborne on both his receptions, as if to suggest he's itching to show off his athleticism.
The kind of receiver who can go up and get it might make John Brantley more comfortable with trying deep passes. If Rainey's comparison of Reed to current Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez proves accurate, Brantley's top target could be his former competition for the top quarterback spot.
The Gator defense looked like it took its foot off the gas for the second half of Saturday's game.
For nearly eight minutes in the third quarter, the Owls showed how a simple play calling adjustment, the inclusion of bootleg and roll out pass plays, could prove effective against the UF defense.
Jelani Jenkins delivered a huge hit during FAU's second drive of the second half, but he looked like the only starting Florida defender who kept the intensity in the second half.
Urban Meyer is gone, but if game one is any indication, special teams will still shine in Gainesville.
Solomon Patton's blocked punt and Rainey's return for a touchdown had to feel good for D.J. Durkin. Last season, many fans blamed Durkin when things went wrong on special teams, while crediting Meyer when things worked.
With the return, Rainey became only the third player in NCAA history to score on a rush, reception and return. More importantly, it widened the Gators lead to 31-3 and crushed FAU's spirit.
THE GOOD NEWS
The Gators have a functioning offense Reed and Burton are now targets for John Brantley, not competition.
It was good for this team to move up and down the field, regardless of the opponent.
Rainey and Demps can be used together or separately. Saturday's offense moved forward with various personnel used in a variety of situations.
Brantley needed this game to show fans and critics what Charlie Weis sees in him, and that is promising potential to effectively manage the pro style offense.
THE BAD NEWS
With the Floyd situation unknown at press time, the confirmed bad news is at a minimum this early in the season.
The injuries to Burton and Thompson are potential issues if Muschamp's "should play" remarks turn out to be media manipulation. While Joyer is a great blocker, he isn't as versatile as Burton. If Thompson has worked out his drop issues, then he should be the go-to target for Brantley.
A LOOK AHEAD
UAB begins its 2011 season by traveling to Gainesville. The Blazers will not come into The Swamp intimidated and roll over for Florida. UAB returns 16 starters from a 2010 team that went to two SEC stadiums and gave Tennessee and Mississippi State all that they could handle, losing by only three and five points respectively. The Blazers should be a good tune up for the Gators before SEC play.
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