GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For South Florida, Saturday's game at The Swamp was about measuring up against one college football's gold standards.
For Florida, it was about trying to recapture that standard after a shaky opening week.
Both teams got answers, but not necessarily the ones they were seeking. Florida won 38-14 with a lot of help from the mistake-prone Bulls. South Florida left thinking it might be able to play at Florida's usual level by cleaning some things up. The Gators learned the same.
"Outside of the turnovers, it would have been a great football game that went down to the wire," first-year South Florida coach Skip Holtz said.
The Bulls had five turnovers to none by the Gators. Meanwhile, Florida had one Jeff Demps, which proved just as valuable.
South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels showed what's both tantalizing and maddening about his still-evolving game. The sophomore ran for 107 yards but completed almost as many passes to the defense (four) as he did to his teammates (five). Holtz called him a "tremendous competitor" who's still a "true freshman in this offense."
But Daniels also made mistakes even a rookie should know to avoid. His included a momentum-killing interception with one minute left in the first half with his team up 7-0. He tried to force a screen pass to Mo Plancher even though Florida's defense had busted the play into pieces. Over and over in training camp, Holtz had instructed him to throw the ball in the dirt in that situation. Instead, he let the Gators' still-struggling offense get a tying score before halftime.
Daniels also gave up a second-half pick-six to defensive lineman Justin Trattou on a floater as he escaped from heavy pressure.
"Under duress, the best thing to do is tuck it and take the loss," said Daniels, who finished 5-for-20 for 84 yards and those four interceptions. "It's definitely something I can learn from. I just need to do things to help the team versus just trying to make every play."
But it's understandable why Daniels would feel like he needed to make every play, because he had precious little help. His shiftiness in the zone-read option kept the Bulls in the game, and Holtz said his quarterback put the team on his shoulders early on.
The passing game, though, was virtually nonexistent. South Florida entered the season with one experienced receiver in Dontavia Bogan, and he turned an ankle early in the game. Daniels completed just two passes to receivers all day as Florida's defensive backs simply manhandled them.
"Their corners are better than I thought they were," Holtz said. "We were challenged outside, and those young guys did not respond very well."
The Gators' defense had the passing game locked down, but the Bulls still averaged 6.3 yards per carry. South Florida executed a 17-play, 96-yard scoring drive on its opening series as its offensive line controlled matters. If an also-ran Big East team can do that, shudder to think what Alabama will do.
"We have to get that corrected," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "You don't win SEC games like that."
As for the Florida offense, Tim Tebow was clearly on a plane en route to Jacksonville rather than under center in Gainesville. The bad-snap issue that plagued the Gators in Week 1 against Miami of Ohio disappeared after a botch on the first series. But quarterback John Brantley and his receivers struggled to get in sync for most of the first half.
"It took us a while to get into the game offensively," receiver Deonte Thompson said. "Once we got a feel for the game, we got the offense running."
More specifically, Demps got the offense running. His 62-yard touchdown sprint put Florida ahead for good in the third quarter. He finished with 139 rushing yards and another 95 yards on two kick returns. Even if Florida's offense is scuffling, it can always just keep giving it to Demps and wait for a big play.
"We had a game plan just for Demps," South Florida linebacker DeDe Lattimore said. "But he's a great player. I like how he plays."
The offensive line opened bigger holes in the second half as the South Florida defense seemed to tire on a sweltering day (the heat index on the field soared well past 100). The Gators piled up 251 rushing yards, and their backs are averaging eight yards per carry through two games.
"That's the hardest our running backs have run here in quite a while," Meyer said. "Our receivers aren't where we need to be, but they're better."
The measure of Florida's improvement demanded a measured response from Meyer. Meanwhile, Holtz saw the possibility of his team's potential.
"I think they showed they deserved to be on this field," Holtz said. "As long as we learn from this experience, it may be one of the best things that happens to us this year. Because we can put on the film and say we deserved to be here."
Both the Gators and the Bulls had questions coming into Saturday. Both got the answers they deserved.