tampabay.com

Leak has offense humming

By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published September 10, 2006


GAINESVILLE - Quarterback Chris Leak said throughout the preseason the Gators would make a marked improvement under Urban Meyer between the first and second seasons.

Saturday night, he made his case.

Leak threw for a career-high 352 yards (19-for-29) and four touchdowns, leading No. 7 Florida to a 42-0 win over UCF in front of 90,210 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

It was the seventh 300-yard game of his career. He has seven touchdowns this season in two fewer games than last season.

"Chris had a good day," Meyer said.

With a seven-point lead at the end of the first quarter, the Gators scored on four straight second-quarter possessions. (Meyer called the quarter "dynamic.") It was Florida's first shutout since Sept. 29, 2001, 52-0 over Mississippi State.

Eleven receivers caught passes led by freshman Percy Harvin's four for 99 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown. Florida had 433 passing yards and 204 rushing yards.

After sputtering last weekend, the offense was much more effective against UCF; arguably the best the offense has looked since Meyer brought the spread option to Gainesville last season.

DeShawn Wynn returned from a shoulder injury to rush for 51 yards on nine carries. Leak's touchdowns went to three receivers: passes of 58 and 10 yards to Harvin and Dallas Baker, respectively, and two to Andre Caldwell (25 and 8 yards). Through two games, Florida has scored 11 touchdowns on 25 drives.

Leak has become so adept at the offense, Meyer said, he's allowed to script the first 12 plays of the game.

"I'm getting real comfortable," Leak said. "Coach Meyer gave me the keys to the offense. I'm trying to get more guys involved. I try to get around to everybody to see what they feel, and I draw off that for my script."

With their confidence soaring, now the real season begins.

Its two "tuneup" games safely in the record books, Florida (2-0) turns its attention to next weekend's SEC opener at Tennessee.

"SEC play starts tomorrow. That's the big thing," Meyer said. "People asked what I learned about the SEC (last season). Two, three, four, five, six plays win a game. Having that much firepower that we have (this season), that makes you feel good. Our goal is to be the fastest team in America. We're not there yet."

After last weekend's game, a 34-7 win against Southern Miss, Meyer said the Gators needed to find a way to generate more "big plays" on offense. Florida had six plays of 20 or more yards in the first half compared with seven total last weekend.

And while the Gator offense was rolling, the defense flexed its muscles.

Aided by safety Tony Joiner (five tackles, four solo; one safety) and the return of tackles Marcus Thomas (four tackles, two sacks) and Steven Harris (two tackles), who were suspended last weekend, the Gators held UCF to 17 yards on 17 carries in the first half and 21 rushing yards for the game. The Golden Knights, who went 8-5 and played in the Hawaii Bowl last season, had just 132 passing yards.

"It feels great," Joiner said. "We planned on pitching the shutout last week, but we didn't get the job done. We came out this week and got it done."

Added Meyer: "I thought our defense played very well. I'm very proud of that. It's hard to get shutouts."

Freshman quarterback Tim Te-bow offered a glimpse of the future, entering late in the first half and engineering a touchdown drive capped by a 28-yard run by Kestahn Moore.

On his first three possessions, Tebow carried four times for 45 yards, including a 29-yard run. He was 6-of-9 for 81 yards and one interception and was the team's leading rusher with nine carries for 63 yards.

"I think Florida played very good," UCF coach George O'Leary said.

"We had opportunities we didn't take advantage of, but give Florida credit. They're a very solid football team with great speed. We put our defense in some bad situations, and we're just not at that stage yet that Florida plays."