The University of Florida is riding high after its blowout victory to open the 2015 season.
The Gators racked up plenty of yards (606), points (61) and good vibes to kickoff the Jim McElwain era.
Still, this story looks familiar.
UF started last season with a fireworks-filled rout, too, so these Gators are determined to prove their 61-13 win against New Mexico State wasn’t a mirage.
“If you were in The Swamp on Saturday, you felt that energy. It was a different kind of energy that was just like brand new,” said UF defensive end Bryan Cox Jr., a former star at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas. “We’re just working toward a common goal. Tear the rear-view mirror off. It’s a new opponent, new face. We’re just trying to work on this one now.”
McElwain’s rebuilding effort is simply one week older, so Gators aim to build on last weekend’s positive performance with showdown against East Carolina.
But it won’t come easy.
The Pirates aren’t a traditional early season cupcake, as just nine months ago they nearly beat UF in the Birmingham Bowl.
ECU is accustomed to winning big road games, too, including at South Florida and Virginia Tech last season.
“We’re expecting a big jump [in competition],” Cox Jr. said. “Not to take anything away from New Mexico State, but they aren’t ECU or any of the other opponents we’re going to face. We expect a pretty big jump.”
Florida knocked off ECU 28-20 in January, as All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III snatched a game-winning interception in the end zone to seal the victory.
Both teams look quite different now, though.
The Pirates, who struggled to beat Townson 28-20 last weekend, lost explosive quarterback-receiver combo Shane Carden and Justin Hardy to the NFL and heralded quarterback Lincoln Riley to Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, the Gators tout a new coaching staff and a redshirt freshman quarterback (Will Grier) making his first-career start.
Although UF is a 20 1/2-point favorite, the Gators aren’t sleeping on the potential challenge ECU presents.
The Pirates (1-0) racked up 536 yards in the Birmingham Bowl, rattling off a blistering 101 plays.
Despite a new set of faces, their hurry-up, Air Raid attack remains difficult to scheme against — especially for a young UF defense still learning a new system.
“Unless you’re doing it yourself, you really can’t simulate it,” McElwain said. “We work it as well as we can.”
Last weekend, UF’s defense held NMSU to minus-1 yards in the second half, but the Gators had multiple busts in the first half that led to a pair of touchdowns.
They know similar mistakes could prove costly against a better opponent.
“They put up a lot of yards on us last year, but we got key turnovers in the red zone,” sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “I know they’re going to be well coached well. I know they have some pretty good guys at receiver. It’s going to be a good game.”
Florida hopes to maintain its momentum from the opener (namely newfound discipline and discovering a group of dynamic playmakers) — and perhaps even gain clarity at quarterback.
The Gators can’t afford to look ahead to a tricky road tilt at Kentucky next weekend or a pair of home dates with Top 25 foes (No. 23 Tennessee and No. 17 Ole Miss) on the horizon, and they insist they won’t.
Saturday: East Carolina at Florida
Kickoff: 7 p.m.; Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field, Gainesville.
TV/radio: ESPN2; WINZ 940.
Favorite: Florida by 201/2.
Records: Florida 1-0 (0-0 SEC); East Carolina 1-0 (0-0 AAC).
Series: Florida leads 2-0.
Florida injuries: Questionable — S Keanu Neal (hamstring); WR Raphael Andrades (leg). Out — DB Kylan Johnson (leg); OT Martez ivey (knee).
East Carolina injuries: Questionable — OT Dontae Levingston (shoulder). Out — WR Deondre Farrier (knee); OL Tre Robertson (illness); QB Kurt Benkert (knee).