No one really doubted that the No. 22/23 Florida Gators would take down the Florida Atlantic Owls on Saturday evening at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL. The question was how Florida’s offense and entire team would look in its first game since former head coach Urban Meyer resigned.
Will Muschamp’s new squad got off to a quick start, overwhelming Florida Atlantic on both sides of the ball and eventually capturing a 41-3 victory.
The Gators started out with an explosive kickoff return for a touchdown by senior running back Jeff Demps; unfortunately it was called back due to a holding penalty and the team had to start from scratch. They subsequently drove the ball down the field, but a snap over the head of redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley eliminated some of their gains and forced redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis to kick a 51-yard field goal, which he made.
After forcing a three-and-out, Florida completed a 12-play, 67-yard drive that ended with Brantley tossing a 14-yard swing pass to redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey for his first of three touchdowns Saturday.
The Owls did not run more than three plays in a series in their first four possessions, allowing the Gators to get the ball back quickly and put more points on the board. A 35-yard run by Demps on the first play of the second quarter resulted in Florida’s second touchdown of the game, and a thrilling 14-yard touchdown run including a dynamic spin move by Rainey capped a nine-play, 91-yard drive.
UF’s victory was not without a few mistakes. Freshman QB Jeff Driskel, inserted late in the second quarter for Brantley, sailed a ball for an interception on his first career pass. FAU drove the ball inside the five but was pushed back and settled for a 27-yard field goal. On the Gators’ subsequent possession, Brantley had a pass tipped for a pick but Florida Atlantic missed a 34-yard attempt and the half ended with Florida leading 24-3.
Again threatening to score late in the third quarter, the Gators failed to do so after committing their third turnover of the evening. Brantley – via multiple completions to Demps and Rainey and a few stellar rushes by the same two players – drove Florida from their 14 to FAU’s six. However, on first and goal, he was picked off in the back of end zone trying to fit the ball into traffic.
Forcing a punt to start the fourth, the Gators began taking it to the Owls again. Brantley’s 17-yard pass on third-and-seven to redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson kept the drive alive, and Demps’s 20-yard rushing touchdown completed Florida’s 78-yard series.
Eleven total players caught passes from Brantley and Driskel, the latter of whom returned late in the fourth quarter and led the team on a 10-play, 52-yard drive capped by a 29-yard field goal by Sturgis.
Demps and Rainey were dominant all game, combining for 272 yards of offense and five total touchdowns. Brantley finished 21/30 for 229 yards and one touchdown, but his two interceptions – including one negating a scoring opportunity – will certainly be a concern for offensive coordinator Charlie Weis heading into preparations for next week.
The Gators posted 468 yards of offense Saturday compared to only 137 from the Owls. (UF outgained FAU 264-62 in the first half alone.)
The announced attendance of 88,708 broke the University of Florida’s 137-game sellout streak, but Florida did win their 22nd straight season opener.
Florida Atlantic head coach Howard Schnellenberger, who will retire at the end of this season after a storied career, lost his fifth-straight game in Gainesville and has not led his team to victory at Florida Field since 1983 (31 years).
The Gators will remain at home for their next contest, a 7 p.m. showdown with Alabama-Birmingham on Sept. 10. The game will air live on FSN.
Check back with us later for news, notes and quotes following the game.