New plays and formations on offense, maybe a few wrinkles on defense. Yet the Gators would like to save some things for next week’s Southeastern Conference opener against rival Tennessee.
“After you go through the first couple of weeks and say, `OK, here’s what we’ve got,’ then you can start zeroing in on what you’re going to do,” Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said.
This much is certain: The Gators (1-0) are going to rely heavily on running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey as well as a defensive line that appears to be stout.
Demps ran 12 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns against Florida Atlantic. He had four runs over 20 yards, tying for the most in the nation. Only one team, San Diego State, had more than four runs longer than 20 yards in openers.
Rainey scored touchdowns in three different ways, becoming the first player in school history to score rushing, receiving and on a return in the same game. He became the third player in the nation to do that since 1996, joining UCLA’s Maurice Jones-Drew (2005) and Louisiana-Lafayette’s Jason Chery (2008).
But keeping Demps and Rainey healthy, especially through the SEC slate, could be the tough part.
Demps missed considerable time last season because of a badly sprained left foot. The injury happened while touching the ball a career-high 31 times. Rainey, suspended for five games last season, missed most of 2007 because of a shoulder injury and has been dinged up several times since.
At 180 pounds, neither is built to be a featured back or take a punishing workload.
“What I expected was basically what you saw,” Weis said. “They are both exceptional players. I think my job and our job is to make sure that we utilize them enough and not too much. I think that’s important. Because if you’re going to play a 14-game season, which is what we intend to do, then you have to worry about the stamina of guys that aren’t 230 pounds.”
Demps and Rainey will face a revamped Blazers defense Saturday. UAB hired former Memphis, Clemson and Tennessee-Chattanooga head coach Tommy West to turn around a defense that ranked 80th in total defense last season and 105th against the pass.
UAB was one of only two Football Bowl Subdivision teams—Nevada was the other—that did not play last week.
“I do think the fact that they have a game under their belt is going to give them a little bit of an advantage,” UAB coach Neil Callaway said. “But at the same time, they haven’t seen us yet. The bottom line is that we have to go down there and play, and they do too.”
UAB is 2-15 against teams from the SEC. The Blazers nearly upset Tennessee in Knoxville last season, losing 32-29 in double overtime. The Blazers finished 4-8 last season, with six games decided by five points or less and four decided on the final play.
With Bryan Ellis at quarterback and Pat Shed in the backfield, UAB racked up 500 yards five times in 2010, including against the Volunteers.
“They moved the ball on everybody they played last year and have had a lot of success offensively,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said.
It could be challenge for Florida’s defense. The unit dominated the line of scrimmage against Florida Atlantic, with Jaye Howard and Dominique Easley in the backfield after nearly every snap. The Owls finished with 137 yards, including 30 rushing on 30 carries.
“It’s Florida, so they are fast on defense,” Ellis said. “Their defensive line is obviously their strength. We will have to do some things to get them blocked, but I have total faith in those five guys in front of me. We will be all right.”