GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida coach Urban Meyer expected some growing pains.
After all, the fourth-ranked Gators entered the post-Tim Tebow era with four new assistant coaches, a new quarterback, a patchwork offensive line, inexperienced receivers and a revamped defense.
But Meyer certainly didn't envision what happened Saturday against five-touchdown underdog Miami (Ohio).
Florida fumbled early and often, botched several snaps, muffed two exchanges, shanked a punt, missed a field goal and an extra point, and watched way too many plays go nowhere. The Gators pulled away down the stretch thanks to two late touchdowns, including a fluky score in the closing minutes, but the 34-12 victory left plenty of cause for concern.
"We've got a long way to go," Meyer said.
The Gators get a chance to correct the problems Saturday against South Florida (1-0). In the meantime, they expect to spend extra time on ball security.
They fumbled on their first three possessions. Mike Pouncey zipped a snap past John Brantley, Chris Rainey coughed the ball up following a short reception and Emmanuel Moody bobbled a pitch on fourth down. Those were just the beginning of Florida's miscues.
Pouncey rolled two shotgun snaps to Brantley and delivered a few more offline.
"We couldn't get nothing going," Pouncey said. "It's part my fault we couldn't get the offense going with the snaps. I pride myself on being great, and that just killed me. I didn't play great."
He wasn't alone.
Deonte Thompson dropped a pass in the end zone. Brantley overthrew Carl Moore deep and Omarius Hines near the sideline. Mike Gillislee fumbled late. Caleb Sturgis pushed a 44-yard field goal right, then badly hooked an extra point.
Things would have been even worse had the Gators not converted three times on fourth down.
"I'm just happy to get that first game out of the way," said Brantley, who spent three years playing behind Tebow and waiting for his first start. "First-game jitters and new offense. I think we'll definitely build off this game and get a lot better."
Florida had negative yardage in the first quarter, 13 yards at halftime and a measly 25 yards entering the fourth. Nonetheless, they led 21-12 because of Miami's miscues. The RedHawks had three interceptions, a failed fake punt and some costly penalties.
Janoris Jenkins returned one interception 67 yards for a touchdown. Ahmad Black gave Florida first-and-goal at the 2-yard line with another. The RedHawks also misfired on a fourth-down pass at their own 21, and settled for three short field goals.
Florida had 28 yards when Jeff Demps took a handoff and sprinted untouched for a 72-yard score early in the fourth, about the time the RedHawks looked exhausted from the sweltering heat and humidity. Brantley tacked on his longest pass of the day with a little more than a minute remaining.
On fourth-and-21 from the Miami 25, Brantley rolled right under pressure and threw a ball up for grabs in the end zone. Hines jumped between two defenders and tipped the ball, which landed in Rainey's arms for a score.
"I was just throwing it up to see if anything good could happen, and it did," Brantley said. "It wasn't our day, but we did a lot of great things out there. We'll learn from our mistakes, just like any other team would."
There were some bright spots.
Defensive tackle Jaye Howard dominated inside (two sacks), Black finished with 12 tackles and the interception, and several youngsters showed promise.
But the focus was on the offensive woes. The Gators managed 12 first downs and finished with 212 yards — the second-worst total in Meyer's six seasons.
"It was not that shocking that we didn't play well," Meyer said. "It was shocking the ball's on the ground. ... There's a sense of urgency. I felt it in the locker room. There should be. We'll come back and work hard. That's what we do around here: Work hard and try to get better."