Florida needed just six seconds to get on the scoreboard.
The very first play of the game was a pass by Idaho quarterback Mason Petrino intended for receiver Jeff Cotton. Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who read it all the way, picked off Petrino’s pass and waltzed into the endzone untouched.
It foreshadowed the dreadful afternoon that was to come for the Vandals as the Gators eased to a 63-10 win in their final home game of the season.
Florida faced little adversity from the 4-7 Vandals on Saturday afternoon. And the biggest benefit of Florida’s tune-up match was that it served as an opportunity for guys who haven’t gotten much playing time this season to impact the outcome of the game.
“As the game went on, obviously, a lot of young guys got opportunities to get into the game, and a lot of teaching moments for those guys of what it’s like when you’re a factor,” coach Dan Mullen said, “when you’re not just cheering from the sideline and you got to go play and how you got to keep your head in the game, stay disciplined.”
Freshman quarterback Emory Jones entered the contest with three minutes left in the first half. He replaced redshirt sophomore Feleipe Franks, who ended the game on 19-of-27 passing for 274 total yards and four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing).
Jones’ inexperience showed at times when the Vandals were able to get pressure on him, but he displayed some promising pocket awareness and decision-making early on.
“There’s a lot that he can build off of from this game,” Mullen said of Jones’ performance. “I thought he made good decisions. I didn’t see any bad decisions, really, with where he went with the ball. Got to hang in the pocket a little bit more maybe on the one or two plays that he’ll see, but we also gave up a little bit of pressure at times. But he did pretty good.”
The LaGrange, Georgia, native finished with 125 yards on 12-of-16 passing. He spread the ball to eight different receivers and threw for two touchdowns.
Freshman Noah Banks made his first career start at left guard and helped the Gators amass 201 rushing yards on the day.
Freshman running back Dameon Pierce accounted for 77 of those rushing yards.
His role in the Gators’ offense has been as a third-option, change-of-pace back behind Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine.
But Pierce played in three quarters against the Vandals. He toted the ball 13 times and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. He also caught the first touchdown pass of his career during the third quarter off a four-yard pass from Jones.
“The older guys really set the tone the first two quarters and gave us a chance to go out there,” Pierce said after the game.
Freshman wideout Jacob Copeland made his debut as a Gator and impacted the game in numerous ways. In addition to a 16-yard catch and a 26-yard punt return, Copeland made some critical blocks, one of which led to a touchdown pass from Jones to Josh Hammond in the second quarter.
“We gave him the ball a couple times to see what he could do,” Mullen said. “I know his first play was covering a kickoff and he got lit up. I love that. Welcome to college football. But I thought he did a good job.”
The Gators will say goodbye to three starting offensive linemen at the end of this season in left tackle Martez Ivey, left guard Tyler Jordan and right guard Fred Johnson.
Their potential replacements got plenty of playing time on Saturday as the Gators’ 20 seniors watched them and the other young guys from the sidelines.
“They’re gonna get this program rolling in the right direction,” senior tight end R.J. Raymond said. “As far as advice goes, just keep putting your head down and working hard, and everything’s going to fall in place. Especially with the people that are here to get this thing rolling.”