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Actually, it might have helped if Brantley had tried to be former Gators hoops star Joakim Noah, the better to corral Pouncey's dozen or so botched shotgun snaps, which, along with Florida's eight fumbles (the team lost three) gave the offense the appearance of "incompetence," as coach Urban Meyer put it. Florida had 13 yards of total offense at halftime—25 after three quarters—against a MAC team that lost 11 games last season.
The Brantley-led attack was sure to differ markedly from Tebow's. While Tebow was a power rusher who also happened to call the signals, take the snap and throw, "I'm not going to be running the ball," says Brantley. With him under center, the offense will turn to the play-action scheme that Chris Leak ran in 2006. And if it continues to grind its gears, Brantley will be booed, as Leak sometimes was, by Gators fans who wanted to see more of Tebow. (The Tebow figure in this updated scenario is true freshman and rugged run-pass threat Trey Burton.)
Brantley still frequents the Outback Steakhouse he and Tebow used to patronize. They'd go at 4:30 p.m. and grab a corner booth in a futile attempt to avoid autograph seekers. These days Brantley's Outback visits excite considerably less fanfare. No fanfare at all, to hear him tell it. The women who serve him meals at his dining hall believe he is a swimmer. He felt slightly less anonymous a few months back when a stranger asked, "Has anyone ever said you look like John Brantley?"
Brantley jeopardized his anonymity in August, when he cultivated a wispy, feeble growth on his upper lip, "a tribute to my dad and [my] high school coach," he explains. Shortly after unveiling the Branstache, as it came to be known, its owner passed for three touchdowns in a Saturday scrimmage. But Brantley shaved it by the time the team broke camp. Should Florida's offense struggle on Saturday against South Florida in Gainesville, there will be one obvious solution: Bring back the Branstache.
Standing on the Oregon sideline in shorts and a T-shirt on Saturday was sophomore running back LaMichael James, who must have experienced conflicting emotions during the Ducks' blowout of New Mexico. Suspended for the season opener after pleading guilty last March to a misdemeanor harassment charge stemming from a conflict with an ex-girlfriend, James had graciously texted his understudy and fellow sophomore, Kenjon (the Burner) Barner, the morning of the opener. "[James] just told me to go out and have a good game, that he loved me and he was hoping the best for me," Barner recalls.
Sure, James hoped his friend would play well. But this well? A converted cornerback and one of seven children, including five boys ("I grew up with a lot of people to run from," he jokes), Barner rushed for 147 yards on 17 carries and four touchdowns in 20 minutes.
He scored on runs of one, 25, 10 and 41 yards before taking a 60-yard screen pass to the house. Asked by a reporter to recap each score in 25 words or less, Barner got off to an O.K. start. On the one-yard plunge: "My line did a great job holding their blocks. They opened a nice hole." On the 25-yarder: "It was an inside play, but I got outside ... I think."
And what about the 10-yard TD less than a minute later? Pause. "I'm sorry," the Burner said. "I can't say that I remember. They're all kinda running together."
Perfectly understandable. At one point Barner scored three touchdowns in the span of six minutes, six seconds. "After the off-season we had," he says, "it was nice to get out and start playing some football."
The legal woes of James were eclipsed by the ongoing saga of quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who led the Ducks to the Rose Bowl last season but was suspended for 2010 when he pleaded guilty to a second-degree burglary charge. On June 9 coach Chip Kelly kicked Masoli off the team after he was cited for marijuana possession. "Jeremiah was a great quarterback," says Barner, "but Darron Thomas and Nate Costa are great players and leaders. We're very confident in the guys we have in this room."