Fighting the Falcons

Gators offense looking to put 2011 in rear view as it opens against BG

Updated: August 31, 2012, 10:31 AM ET
By Michael DiRocco | GatorNation

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida begins Will Muschamp's second season in Gainesville the same way it began his first: With a lot of questions about the offense.

Coordinator Brent Pease was lured away from Boise State to fix a unit that finished No. 105 nationally in total offense and No. 71 nationally in scoring. He has installed a litany of shifts and motions designed to confuse the defense and create mismatches, but the Gators have yet to use them under game conditions.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Courtesy of UF CommunicationsBoth Jeff Driskel (pictured) and Jacoby Brissett will get playing time at quarterback in the first half.
UF still doesn't have a starting quarterback, either. Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett will rotate in Saturday's opener against Bowling Green. But will it really matter if the receivers continue to underachieve as they have the past two seasons? The Gators desperately need someone to emerge as a reliable pass-catcher.

Florida's defense should again be among the best in the nation. Whether the offense can begin to catch up will start to become evident on Saturday.

Three storylines

Second-half snaps
Driskel and Brissett will each play a quarter in the first half, but the second half is still TBD. Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease will evaluate their play at halftime and decided how the snaps will be divided in the final 30 minutes. If one plays significantly more than the other he'll likely be the one that starts the following weekend at Texas A&M.

Run game remake
Florida finally has the personnel to use the downhill, between-the-tackles running style that Muschamp wants. The key is senior Mike Gillislee, who had a fantastic spring and August and finally proved he can handle the pass-protection role that tripped him up during his first three seasons. The one concern with Gillislee is whether he'll make it through the season healthy because he's been bothered by an ankle injury the past two seasons. The Gators feel like they have good depth at the position, with Mack Brown and freshman Matt Jones next in line.

Turnovers
Florida forced only 14 turnovers last season, which was the lowest single-season total since the school began keeping fumble stats in 1950. It has been a big emphasis throughout the offseason and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has been harping on causing more turnovers in every practice. The Gators have to cause more this season to be an elite defense, and the first chance to prove that comes against a Bowling Green team with a veteran quarterback.

Gators to watch (freshman edition)

DE/LB Dante Fowler
He showed up to campus in early July nearly 40 pounds heavier than when he signed, but without losing any of the quickness and explosiveness that made him a four-star recruit and the nation's No. 10 defensive end. He'll play a lot and could become the Gators' next elite pass rusher.

LB Antonio Morrison
Morrison enrolled in January and quickly caught Muschamp's eye during spring practice. Why? Because he's a big hitter who can run. He quickly moved into the backup spot at weakside linebacker behind Jelani Jenkins, but he also can play in the middle.

TE Kent Taylor
He's built more like a wide receiver (6-foot-5, 223 pounds) than a tight end and will end up playing some in the slot. The Gators don't have a lot of playmakers in the passing game, but he's got a chance to be one. He's athletic with good hands and showed a knack for getting open down the field during August practices.

Falcons to watch

[+] EnlargeCurry
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireThe Gators must pressure Bowling Green quarterback Matt Schilz and force the Falcons into mistakes.
QB Matt Schilz
He enters his third year as the starter and is coming off a season in which he threw 28 touchdown passes, which is second-highest single-season total in school history. He has thrown for 5,247 yards and 36 TDs in his career.

TE Alex Bayer
The junior was named to the John Mackey Award Watch List after a sophomore season in which he caught 20 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns.

DT Chris Jones
He led the Falcons in sacks each of the past two seasons and has 15.5 career sacks. The 6-1, 293-pound senior is just 2.5 sacks shy of cracking the top five on the school's all-time sack list.

Key matchup

Florida DE Dominique Easley vs.
Bowling Green LT Fahn Cooper

Easley has to be salivating at the chance to go up against the 6-4, 300-pound Cooper, who is a redshirt freshman playing in his first collegiate game. If Easley has completely recovered from his torn ACL -- and Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn both said Easley was completely healthy  he could have a big day against the inexperienced Cooper.

By the numbers

3: Bowling Green is 3-7 against teams ranked in the AP Top 25 since 2003. Those victories came at No. 16 Purdue in 2003, vs. No. 12 Northern Illinois in 2003, and at No. 25 Pittsburgh in 2008.

22: The Gators have won 22 consecutive season openers dating back to a loss to Ole Miss to begin the 1989 season. That's the longest current streak in the SEC and the second-longest current streak in the nation (Nebraska has won 26 openers in a row heading into 2012).

79: The projected starting offensive line of Xavier Nixon, James Wilson, Jon Harrison, Jon Halapio and Chaz Green has a combined 79 career starts.

Mike DiRocco | email

ESPN Jacksonville Jaguars reporter