A week after nasty weather soured Florida’s original season opener, the Gators finally washed away their frustrations from last year’s miserable 4-8 campaign.
The Gators (1-0) ended their seven-game losing streak — emphatically — as a raucous student section chanted, “We want 70,” in the closing minutes of UF’s 65-0 trouncing of lowly Eastern Michigan (1-1) on Saturday afternoon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“We’re much improved,” coach Will Muschamp said.
“It’s not false bravado. It’s real. We are a better football team. When you get the amount of playmakers for your team back you’re going to look like a lot better coach.”
For the first time since last October — and not coincidentally the last time UF won or scored more than 24 points — fans left The Swamp satisfied.
It was a complete performance — albeit against a vastly inferior directional school with an $850,000 fee — but Muschamp, quarterback Jeff Driskel and the Gator Nation needed the victory badly.
“We needed this game, especially not being able to play last weekend,” star defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. “We had all that rage and fire built up. It felt good to play this game. … Every game we’re out to make a statement and that was a statement made.”
Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s spread, hurry-up scheme debuted in dazzling fashion, as Florida totaled seven offensive touchdowns and 655 yards (10th all-time) on 86 plays. The Gators had seven explosive plays over 30 yards, as the Eagles were overmatched from the outset.
Driskel, returning from last year’s season ending broken leg, completed a career-high 31 passes, finding 10 different receivers for 248 yards. Sophomore sensation Demarcus Robinson, suspended for the canceled opener, was UF’s most dynamic playmaker, tallying six receptions for 123 yards.
“Never beat a team that bad,” Driskel said. “That’s by far the most points I’ve ever put up. … I think we played a really good game offensively.”
UF’s four-headed tailback attack — Matt Jones, Kelvin Taylor, Mack Brown and Deerfield Beach standout Brandon Powell — averaged 8.68 yards per carry, as UF easily controlled the line of scrimmage. Taylor (8 carries, 68 yards) and Jones (8 carries, 65 yards) each scored a pair of touchdowns, while Powell (12-yard touchdown) and Brown (6 carries, 60 yards) added nice insurance.
Former Booker T. Washington star quarterback Treon Harris keyed several second-half scores, rifling a pair of long touchdowns (70, 78 yards) in his lone two attempts. Harris finished with an insane 1,051.6 quarterback rating.
The Fun-and-Gun was back, and Florida’s defense was just as dominant. The Gators suffocated the Eagles run-heavy attack, forcing seven three-and-outs, five turnovers and allowing just two plays inside their own territory.
UF didn’t yield a first down until the second quarter, and senior linebacker Neiron Ball registered two sacks, including a second-quarter strip-sack to setup a short field goal. With the rout already on, freshman cornerback Duke Dawson notched a pick-six late in the third quarter.
“The turnovers were huge,” Muschamp said. “We were getting of the field with lots of three-and-outs.”
Win at a cost
Despite an impressive showing all-around, the Gators did not escape their first victory unscathed.
Starting tight end Jake McGee — a senior transfer from Virginia — was carted off the field after sustaining a season-ending injury, breaking both the tibia and fibia in his left leg.
Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries exited the game in the first quarter and will miss “2-3 weeks” with a chipped bone in his ankle. The injury will not require surgery, Muschamp said.
THIS & THAT
Nine true freshmen saw playing time: Powell, Harris, left tackle David Sharpe, defensive end Gerald Willis III, wideout C.J. Worton (Homestead South Dade) and cornerbacks Jalen Tabor, J.C. Jackson, Duke Dawson and Quincy Wilson (Davie University School). … EMU played three quarterbacks. … The Gators were penalized 10 times for 100 yards. … Senior tight end Clay Burton, with just three career receptions, tallied seven catches for 43 yards. … Senior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar (Booker T. Washington High standout) caught a pass for the 29th consecutive game, extending his school-record.