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September 30, 2010After passing for just over 150 yards per game through their first three games, the Florida Gators had serious concerns about their passing game.
Quarterback John Brantley looked like anything but the guy that most of the media projected him to be before the season started - a top three quarterback in the SEC who could easily break top the 3,000-yard mark passing.
However, Florida's passing attack finally seemed to come to life against Kentucky, as the Gators threw for 290 yards and an almost 70 percent completion percentage.
On Monday, head coach Urban Meyer said he thought the offense took a huge step in the right direction.
One aspect Meyer harped on in particular was the improved timing between Brantley and his receiving corps. While Brantley's passes were frequently in front of or behind receivers through the first three games, on Saturday against Kentucky, they seemed much more on point.
"The best thing going is the timing by our wide receivers and Johnny," Meyer said. "Those guys around him are the ones that are really picking up the slack. It's all timing between a quarterback and a receiver."
While Brantley made a few errant throws against Kentucky, he had a much better rapport with his receivers. On several drives, the offense clearly got into a great rhythm in the passing game.
Meyer attributed much of the improvement in play to one simple thing: experience.
"The first time a guy makes a play it's not going to be in front of 95,000 people on national TV," he said. "It's going to be in practice. He's going to have to do it probably 500 to 600 times in practice before you see it in a game. Confidence is a result of success and doing it ... It will never happen in a game unless you have confidence in practice."
For as cool and collected as he often seems in interviews, perhaps Brantley's inexperience caused some nerves early in the season. He has admitted that he sometimes gets nervous before games.
That might be changing as he gets more comfortable with the starting role and working with his receivers.
"I feel a lot more comfortable," Brantley said Monday. "I'm starting to get the hang of how the game works."
His comfort level showed on Saturday as the Gators marched right down the field with ease in the opening quarter against the Wildcats.
According to him, that's something positive that the team hopes to build on this week, heading into a pivotal showdown with top-ranked Alabama.
"We started out great on Saturday," he said. "We want to try to do that every week. We're starting to find ourselves, I think, as an offense. We're just going to keep building off of that, keep practicing what we know and keep moving forward."
With running back Jeff Demps listed as probable for Saturday's game after aggravating an ankle injury against the Wildcats, Florida might have to rely on its passing game even more against Alabama.
In fact, it might be to Florida's benefit to do so even if Demps is completely healthy.
The Tide are the greenest in the secondary, where they had to replace several key players from last year's terrific defense. Teams so far have picked on Alabama in the secondary, with some success.
When it comes down to it, though, wide receiver Omarius Hines said it's just about making plays. Timing, chemistry and running good routes mean nothing if you can't make the play.
"We've been challenged since camp," Hines said Wednesday, "and we're just stepping up to that challenge and making plays."
One thing is clear: Florida's passing game will have to step up and make plays if the Gators hope to win against Alabama.