The Florida football team opens its 2014 season this Saturday night, as they welcome Idaho to the Swamp. This is the first-ever meeting between the Gators and the Vandals. UF holds a 9-1 record all-time against current Sun Belt Conference members with the one loss coming against Georgia Southern a year ago.
The Gators posted a 4-8 record a year ago, which was Florida’s worst record (and first losing season) since the 1979 team went 0-10-1. They were also plagued with close to a dozen season ending injuries, including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel. Fast forward a year later and the Gators are MUCH healthier. Not to mention, they added a new offensive coordinator in Kurt Roper. Quarterback Jeff Driskel will have the task of putting the high speed up-tempo offense on display this Saturday against Idaho.
“I think we have the players to really flourish in the system that we’re running. We have a lot of players that can make plays in space,” Driskel said. “Coach Roper is always up tempo, he’s always a positive guy and we needed that around here. He’s not going to be one to have an off day on the field. He’s always going to be bringing the energy and that’s what we need in a coach.”
The Gators have eight returning starters on defense including linebacker Michael Taylor. Last year, the third down defense ranked third nationally, holding opponents to a .306 conversion rate. They also held eight of their 12 opponents to 165 passing yards or less in 2013, including zero yards against Georgia Southern. Taylor wants nothing more on Saturday than to get a victory.
“Definitely excited to get a victory because we haven’t had a victory in a while on the road or here,” Taylor added. “So we’re definitely excited to get this thing started. I know the whole campus is excited, coaches are excited, and the players are definitely excited. So we’re ready to just go out and showcase our talents and abilities.”
On the other hand, Idaho comes into Gainesville looking to avenge their 1-11 season a year ago. The Vandals were ranked 115th in the country in scoring offense (18.2) compared to Florida being tied for 112th in the country in scoring offense(18.8). The biggest disparity between these two teams in terms of rankings comes from pass defense. The Gators were ranked 7th in pass defense(172 yards) as opposed to the Vandals being ranked 122nd in pass defense (316 yards).
Paul Petrino is in his second season as the head coach of Idaho. Despite the Vandals having won only four games total in the last three years, Tom Morris, who is the radio play by play voice for the Vandals, thinks the team is going to improve.
“We are seeing a marked improvement in execution. A little more speed. A little more depth. There is no where to go, but up,” Morris said. “Last year being independent we played seven of 12 teams that went to bowls. It’s a much more optimistic picture this year.”
Morris believes the improvement will translate to the defensive side of the ball as well.
“We have a new junior college safety. We’re pretty deep at corner now. There is more depth which allows Idaho’s defense to play more nickel defense than dime against what we’re going to see in the Sun Belt, which is a lot of spread offenses.”
Morris also revealed that the Vandals will use two quarterbacks on Saturday. The quarterback duties will be shared between red shirt freshman, Matt Linehan, and sophomore Chad Chalich.
Florida holds a 80-27 all-time record in season openers, including 50-4 in The Swamp.
The Gators will look to extend their SEC best opening day winning streak of 24 games when they take on the Vandals this weekend.
Kickoff is at 7 pm but ESPN 850 WRUF’s pregame coverage of the Gators and the Vandals starts at 3 pm.
For audio of the above quotes, click below.