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ROAD TRIP REPORT: GAINESVILLE, FL

Back from Gainesville, which is a much nicer place to be in as a broke-ass adult than it was to be a broke-ass 19 year old, if only because as an adult you understand that there are broke people everywhere, and that they have more choices for dinner out than Five Star Pizza and Maui Teriyaki's chicken bowl. Age does indeed have its benefits.

The benefits in this case were:
1. A look at what Urban Meyer is up to in Hogtown.
2. A chance to play what was the greatest football game in home console history with my preferred nemesis, my brother-in-law Jim.(Posted at length, below.)

First, the real game.

Perfect weather for the main event, the Orange and Blue game. I mean, immaculate. 78 degrees with a gentle, slightly salty breeze that blew the slight reek of rotting vegetation and brine that is the signature smell of Alachua county away for a moment or two periodically. Robin's egg blue skies. The Red Baron Pizza promotional van, parked right outside the south endzone gates giving away half-off coupons for frozen pizzas. The reek of tradition, people, is what we're trying to convey here, and it was abundant on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Sort of.

(A side note here on the whole tradition thing. Much as we respect it, the lack of tradition at a school can really have its advantages. For every "wake up the echoes" moment you get at Notre Dame, you also get a dreary "General Neyland's Maxims" moment at Tennessee, where the fans recite the seven rules of football, including nuggets of brilliance like "The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win," and "If a prized recruit gets arrested for sexual assault at a rival school, offer him a scholarship immediately." All that rote can really be a drag on the ambience. All three of the Florida schools have no such problem-hell, they sell beer and let a DJ play at the Orange Bowl, which means you can combine three crucial weekend activities in one single afternoon. Try and do that in South Bend, Rudy, and you'll end up arrested.)

Game notes:

-Scores abounded. In between still-wobbly option plays, Chris Leak threw for three touchdowns in the first quarter, with Dallas Baker making insane, one-handed grabs over exasperated dbs. This continued on both sides of the ball, with receivers running wild off skinny posts, screens, deep curls, and short stop routes. Through the air, things looked very, very nice for Florida. The ground game could still be wobbly, though Meyer did say he kept a very vanilla ground plan in for the spring. Orange won behind the passing of Leak, who in a single half equaled some of his game totals from last year. Through the air, at least, the Gators could be very, very troublesome for an unprepared defense.

-Defensively, things also look very different. We always wondered what happened to Ed Zaunbrecher and Charlie Strong under Zook: two adventurous coaches with inventive, attacking schemes who, at Florida, turned into Messrs. Bubble Screen and Loose Zone, respectively. Strong, at least, appears to be liberated under Meyer. Despite the constraints of a spring game playbook (two blitzes, nothing fancy to keep the score up,) Strong's defense finally resembles the Mongolian Horde defenses we remember from Lou Holtz's first two years at SC. Corners played tight man-on-man coverage, D-lineman held their spots, and linebackers and dbs did most of the heavy lifting, especially anger freak Brandon Siler, who will hit people very hard all year long this season with disastrous results. Florida may give up big plays, but they won't be bled dry in the fourth quarter as they were so many times under Zook.

Individual notes:

-Tavares Washington on the o-line will be a nightmare this year. Yes, it's obvious he's big: 6-7, 300 plus at this point. What you don't know is that he's fast enough to pull and block on a flanker screen so hard the db's head exploded in a fine red mist. Actually, that's not true, but he did take a nasty pancake from Washington, who weighs as much as three Rottweilers and plays just as mean.

-Jeremy Mincey will make an impact on the line at end this year. He's tenacious, fast, and really seems to enjoy hitting poor Josh Portis, who was obliterated a couple of times immediately following the release of a shovel pass. He'll also get some late hit penalties, likely, since he doesn't really hear that whistle thing all that well. Or care. Either way it's fifteen and a first, which we suspect Urban Meyer will not like...

-Speaking of Portis, he started the whole game for the Blue side and went 20-30 for 250-something, 2 tds, and one pick he threw after getting hit during the throw. Nice numbers, but you didn't see them happen. Portis did some spectacular things on Saturday: throwing over a safety and into a mailbox to hit Jemalle Cornelius on a skinny post for a td, scrambling under pressure and reversing field for a big gain, and in general looking like everything but a 17-year old kid whose friends haven't gone to prom yet. Portis will be extremely good. Put hard currency and treasury notes on it.

-They had frisbee catching dogs on at the abbreviated halftime. It beat most halftime shows I've ever seen, including this.

Overall? Things looked good for the Gators. Players seemed to give a shit, a marked change from the Zook era, and everyone seemed to have a very clear understanding of what they were supposed to do (again, another change from Zook.) They'll have growing pains on the offensive side of the ball, but the balance of power in the SEC has already begun to shift. Effects of their prior mediocrity will linger, but on the whole Florida, for lack of a better word, is back. (co-bloggers note: in case you want a non-homers opinion on the event, click here.)