Saturday night in The Swamp may not have been as electrifying as fans had hoped for going into the game, but the No. 18 Florida Gators (2-0) were plenty effective in their effort, earning the team’s first shutout since 2006 in a 39-0 defeat of the UAB Blazers (0-1) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.
Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey turned in a career performance, compiling 162 yards of total offense and a rushing touchdown on 16 carries and three receptions one week after scoring three touchdowns in a single game. As a team, the Gators posted 512 yards of total offense with the defense holding the Blazers to 300 less (212).
Led out of the tunnel by American flags, Florida commemorated September 11th throughout the evening with ribbons on the stadium’s orange walls, a pre-game video tribute, coaches wearing FBI hats, a stirring halftime rendition by the Pride of the Sunshine marching band, and a variety of other actions to remember those lost a decade ago.
Receiving the ball first, Gators redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose returned the opening kickoff 50 yards, and redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley followed that up with a wobbly 40-yard flea-flicker caught by redshirt freshman WR Quinton Dunbar just five yards from the end zone. Florida was unable to convert a touchdown, however, settling for the first of three field goals from redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis.
The Gators used Rainey and senior RB Jeff Demps almost exclusively on their next drive with the duo combining for 61 of 62 yards earned. Sturgis kicked a 35-yard field goal as Florida failed to take advantage of consecutive red zone opportunities.
After a three-and-out, UF got the ball back again and counted on Rainey and Demps to lead them down the field. A 32-yard touchdown run by Rainey was negated by a holding call on redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio, but Brantley hit redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson with a 24-yard strike to put the Gators on the Blazers’ 18-yard-line. Down at the three, freshman fullback Hunter Joyer took the first carry of his career in for a touchdown, giving Florida an early 13-0 in the first quarter.
Starting from their own 21, the Blazers were forced backward as junior linebacker Jon Bostic sniffed out a reverse and completed a 13-yard tackle for loss. Three plays later, UAB snapped the ball past their punter and UF earned a safety.
Receiving the ensuing kick at the Blazers’ 37-yard-line, the Gators charged right down the field. Brantley completed an 18-yard strike to Debose, and Burton finished the drive with a five-yard touchdown run to put Florida ahead 25-0 at the end of the first half.
UAB got the ball back to start the second half and began driving on UF, but sophomore safety Matt Elam stripped a 16-yard completion – the first forced fumble of his career – which was recovered by freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson for the defense’s first turnover of the young season.
Brantley found Dunbar over the middle for 18 yards and Burton took a draw play 12 yards in the ensuing seven-play, 72-yard scoring drive, but Rainey accounted for 42 of the yards including the 19-yard touchdown that gave the Gators a 32-0 lead.
The Blazers attempted a fake punt on their ensuing drive but fell a yard short of converting, turning the ball over to Florida just 36 yards from the end zone. Junior RB Mike Gillislee, who entered the game for Demps in the first half, carried the ball three-straight times for 19, four and 13 yards, his final rush resulting in a score.
The Gators took their foot off the pedal after that, entering their entire second-team offense and defense in the game and winding the clock down with their running game. Florida possessed the ball nearly 13 minutes longer than UAB (36:29-23:31) and achieved 17 more first downs (28-11) in the contest.
UF totaled 300 rushing yards on the evening and did not turn the ball over once. Sturgis, in addition to making all of his kicks, forced two touchbacks deep into the end zone.
Brantley finished a respectable 12/19 for 195 yards on the evening, and Dunbar was the team’s leading receiver with 58 yards. Rainey led the Gators with 119 yards on the ground, followed by Gillislee (79) and Burton (46). All three rushers averaged more than 7.2 yards per carry. Elam registered a team-high seven tackles; and Bostic added five.
Florida converted all seven of their red zone attempts but only scored touchdowns on four occasions. The Gators were 4/12 on third down and held the Blazers to 1/10 in the same scenario; however, UF’s defense did not register a sack the entire evening and the team has a whole committed nine penalties for 55 yards, a stat head coach Will Muschamp was none-too-pleased with after the game.
Saturday’s win marks the seventh-straight season that Florida has started 2-0, and the Gators hope to improve to 3-0 for the sixth consecutive year next week as they take on Tennessee at home. The game will air live on CBS at 3:30 p.m.
Photo Credit: John Raoux