GAINESVILLE, Fla. — One week into the college football season, the Florida Gators are seven days closer to the SEC season but no closer to answers about their new up-tempo offense.
The first chance to get some was washed away last Saturday night when severe weather suspended UF’s season opener with Idaho.
The Gators now enter Saturday’s visit from Eastern Michigan on an accelerated time table to get ready for next weekend’s SEC opener versus Kentucky followed by a Sept. 20 visit to Alabama.
“There’s an old saying, you always have your most improvement between your first and your second game,” offensive coordinator Kurt Roper told reporters on Tuesday. “Losing that game affects you that way. And then it also slows you down on learning what you’re good at, what you’re not good at, who you are, who those players are that you can really hand your hat on.
“Obviously, it affects you.”
UF entered last weekend eager to execute Roper’s new scheme and get younger players college game experience.
Meanwhile, quarterback Jeff Driskel was back for his first game since he broke his leg last September against Tennessee, while tailback Matt Jones had recovered from a knee injury suffered last October at LSU. A retooled offensive line looked to develop chemistry, while a promising receiving corps looked to identify its playmakers.
Idaho was expected to offer little resistance a season after it finished 1-11 and allowed the most points in college football. But the Vandals would have offered the Gators’ offense the opportunity to run 70, 75 plays.
Instead, players endured a 2-hour, 48-minute weather delay just to line up for one special teams play — a 64-yard kickoff return by UF’s Valdez Showers — before officials sent the teams back to the locker room once again due to lightning strikes in the area.
“It was tough in there,” Driskel said. “We were all wet, we were cold. We could only handle what we could handle. Obviously we wanted to play, but it was the right decision not to go out there. Somebody would have gotten hurt.”
Despite the injury risks, many players were disappointed when the game was suspended.
Now, the Eastern Michigan game cannot come soon enough.
“I wish tomorrow was Saturday,” senior safety Jabari Gorman said Tuesday. “We’re all ready. That’s all we can think of is Saturday.”
Eastern Michigan, which slipped by Morgan State 31-28 last week, is another school coming to Gainesville for a large payday. To travel a little more than 1,000 miles to the Swamp, the Eagles’ athletic department will receive $850,000, compared with $975,000 that was due Idaho to travel more than 2,700 miles to UF.
EMU’s defense also should be of little challenge to the Gators’ revamped offense. The Eagles allowed 542 points in 2013, while Idaho allowed a nation-worst 561.
UF and Eastern Michigan have met once, during Week 2 in 2004. The week earlier, Hurricane Frances force the Gators to move their opener with Middle Tennessee to a later date.
While UF and Idaho officials decided whether to reschedule last week’s game, Driskel and Co. turned their attention to this week, without giving mind to the potential impact of the Idaho washout on the Gators’ early schedule.
“We’ll still have one game before we get into our SEC schedule,” he said. “No matter how your schedule lines up, you have to be ready to go. There’s no excuses.”
In the end, Roper said, the person most disappointed last Saturday was his 6-year-old daughter, who had painted her nails orange and blue and dressed to the nines for her dad’s much-anticipated debut.
“My daughter said, ‘I got all dressed up for this? I’m just so disappointed,’” Roper said. “You know what I mean? I think it affected everybody that way. But it happened.
“Let’s go to work … and get a little bit better.”