With No. 25 Florida up by just three points in the fourth quarter of its season opener against UMass on Saturday, Luke Del Rio charged the Gators down the field.
He fired a dart to Brandon Powell for 28 yards, UF’s longest play from scrimmage on the night.
Going no-huddle, the quarterback quickly found tight end DeAndre Goolsby for a 19-yard gain to bring the Gators to the red zone.
The offense stopped there on that drive. Four plays later, Florida settled for a field goal.
The Gators defeated the Minutemen 24-7 for their 27th straight season-opening win, but offensive inconsistencies and costly penalties early put a damper on what could have been an opportunity for Florida to make a statement.
“Wins are hard, man,” McElwain said. “It’s not easy. It doesn’t matter what. And I'm excited about that piece.”
Del Rio, starting his first career college football game, finished the game with 256 yards and two touchdowns on 29-of-44 passing. He did not turn the ball over.
But the redshirt sophomore more often than not settled for checkdowns, screens and short slants up the middle, failing to open up the field.
“They did a really good job of keeping everything in front of them. They wanted us to kind of go the long way,” Del Rio said. “You saw that with the amount of yards we had, but it took a lot of plays to get those yards.”
The running game never took off, with the Gators amassing just 107 yards on 29 carries — a 3.7-yard average. Former St. Thomas Aquinas standout Jordan Scarlett’s 11-yard rush in the fourth quarter was UF’s only run longer than 10 yards.
Only two drives found the end zone. The first came on the Gators’ second possession of the game, an 11-play, 71-yard drive capped by a 12-yard pass from Del Rio to sophomore and Booker T. Washington standout Antonio Callaway. The second came halfway into the fourth quarter, where the Gators capitalized on a short field. A five-play, 46-yard drive ended with a Del Rio screen to Powell, who shook off a defender at the line of scrimmage and darted 26 yards to the end zone to close out scoring. Powell finished the game with a team-high 73 yards receiving. Callaway was right behind him with 72 yards.
While the offense faltered early, the defense and special teams kept Florida up front.
Even with three personal foul penalties (and eight on the night (the Gators had eight total penalties), UF’s defense limited UMass to just one third-down conversion and allowed the Minutemen to cross midfield once in its final eight drives.
Eddy Pineiro made all three of his field-goal attempts, successful kicks from 40, 49 and 48 yards.
The former soccer star at Miami Sunset could have had a fourth — a 28-yard kick — but McElwain opted to accept a UMass penalty and go for it on fourth and 1. Running back Mark Thompson was stopped on the play for no gain.
The Minutemen scored their lone points in the second quarter, when quarterback Ross Comis capped a nine-play, 75-yard with a 5-yard quarterback run around the left side.
Florida’s defense shored up from there, limiting UMass to 112 yards in the second half and sacking Comis four times.
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Gators, who open Southeastern Conference play next weekend against Kentucky.
“As you watch the game,” McElwain said, “we’ve got a long ways to go.”