University of Florida

The Florida Gators season-opening victory gave this big signal to players and fans

Tyrie Cleveland #89 of the Florida Gators crosses the goal line for a touchdown during the game against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Gainesville, Florida.
Tyrie Cleveland #89 of the Florida Gators crosses the goal line for a touchdown during the game against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Gainesville, Florida. Getty Images

If Florida needed a game to boost team morale, its 53-6 rout of Charleston Southern on Saturday night did that and more.

Explosive plays on offense, guys laying people out on defense, field goal blocks and more. The Gators’ level of energy on Saturday proved one thing: the Dan Mullen era is here, and it looks different.

There was a different feel to this victory. It was evident in the tempo of the offense and the big plays made on the other side of the ball. The Gators displayed that high energy level for the entirety of Mullen’s first game as head coach.

“It was really cool. Before the game you’re thinking, it’s pretty amazing. Worked really hard in my career. I’ve been really blessed with opportunities … If you work really hard more opportunities will present themselves to you. Don’t worry about it, just work your tail off. And if you get an opportunity make sure you’re ready and you take full advantage of it in any aspect of your life,” Mullen said. “It was a pretty awesome moment to sit there and say hey I’ve worked really hard, here I am getting ready to run, lead the Florida Gators a head coach, lead them out of the tunnel.”

Florida dominated the Buccaneers at every phase: defense, offense, special teams and intensity.

Feleipe Franks had the Gators on their feet as they whirled orange towels in the air.

The redshirt sophomore quarterback went 16 for 24 and threw five touchdowns in the first half. It was the first time that Florida has thrown for that many touchdowns in a half since 2004.

Franks’ performance was not perfect, and he mentioned after the game that he’s still far from where he needs to be.

However, Franks displayed his mobility and ability to make plays.

“I think not just me, I think the team, we’re just hitting the surface. I think we’ve got a long way to go,” Franks said.

Franks’ first drive ended in a 34-yard touchdown pass to Ohio State transfer Trevon Grimes. It was the first time in 15 games that Florida has scored on its opening drive.

And Franks’ last drive was a 3-yard jump pass to the other transfer, Van Jefferson, with 1:38 left in the second quarter.

“It was expected, Feleipe has worked his tail off this summer, this spring, and he’s had an excellent camp, so I knew he was going to come in and do great. His confidence is through the roof,” Jefferson said after the game. “He went out and played well.”

Jefferson and Grimes combined for 84 yards and three touchdowns in their first games in a Florida Gators uniform.

“It was good, my first touchdown in the swamp – it was electric,” Jefferson said. “I hope for many more.”

The Buccaneers managed just three passing yards on the night, making it just the second time since 1996 Florida held an opponent to less than 10 passing yards in a game.

Defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson led the way with a career-high 2.5 tackles for loss.

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