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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Anyone watching the opening series of UF's game against Western Kentucky must have thought the two teams switched jerseys.

The Hilltoppers took the opening kickoff and marched straight into Gators? territory with a nine-play, 62-yard drive that ended at the UF 10 after a failed attempt on 4th-and-1.

The rough start raised even more doubts about the Gators? young, unproven defense.

"I was like, 'We've just got to get the ball to the offense. Please make a stop so (Tim) Tebow and the offense can come in and score so everyone can breathe a little bit easier,'" UF cornerback Joe Haden said. "Everybody got their butterflies out after that first drive."

The offense did score on its first possession, but the defense still left its maturity questions unanswered in the 49-3 win.

The Gators? front seven did have their moments in holding the Hilltoppers to just 48 rushing yards, but the secondary had problems stopping Western Kentucky's spread offense.

WKU starting quarterback David Wolke completed three-of-four passes for 44 yards on the first series, but a concussion forced him out of the game afterward.

After Wolke?s exit, there was visible improvement in UF?s defense, but the Hilltoppers? backups still had success against the Gators? secondary.

Quarterbacks K.J. Black and Brandon Smith threw for a combined 145 yards, completing 12 of 17 tosses for over 12 yards per pass.

WKU?s steady stream of completions led to a few lengthy drives, but little result on the scoreboard, as the Hilltoppers punted eight times and came away with just one field goal.

"We got off to a rough start," UF safety Tony Joiner said. "We basically just said that we had to start getting off the field on third downs. I was just telling them that we need to get the ball back to the offense, because we can't be out there long drives the whole game."

Besides the run defense, the play of the Gators? defensive ends was another positive.

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Derrick Harvey tallied two sacks, while sophomore Jermaine Cunningham and freshman Justin Trattou added one each.

"I see the same things that I saw all of two-a-days," UF coach Urban Meyer said.

"I thought we had a great push off the edge. Derrick Harvey and Jermaine looked very fast off the edge."

Surprisingly, the Gators did not force any turnovers in the game, and a few missed tackles allowed the Hilltoppers extra yardage and a few first downs.

"There were a lot of missed tackles," Joiner said. "You're never happy when you have missed tackles, so that?s something we?re going to work on when we get back to practice on Monday."

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