Junior running back Jeff Demps rushed for a career-high 139 yards while totaling 255 all purpose yards Saturday, leading the No. 6/8 Florida Gators (2-0) to a 38-14 win over the South Florida Bulls (1-1) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL, in the first-ever meeting between the two schools in football.
After going three-and-out on their first series, the Gators punted the ball to the Bulls, who put together a 17-play 96-yard drive resulting in a touchdown and an early 7-0 lead. Thirteen of South Florida’s 17 plays on the scoring drive were rushes, with QB B.J. Daniels carrying the majority of the load.
Florida once again had trouble getting things going offensively in the first half. The Gators’ first three drives resulted in punts, and snapping issues reared their ugly head early with a few errant balls coming from senior center Mike Pouncey. Redshirt junior quarterback John Brantley corralled most of them but mishandled one which resulted in a fumble that he recovered.
Junior kicker Caleb Sturgis missed a 39-yard field goal more than halfway through the second quarter, but an interception by senior safety Ahmad Black got Florida the ball back inside USF’s 30 yard line with one minute left in the half. Brantley completed a beautiful 23-yard pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Deonte Thompson on first down before tossing a game-tying touchdown to redshirt senior WR Carl Moore to complete a three-play, 29-yard scoring drive in 16 seconds.
Black would end the half with his second interception of the game, sending the Gators into the locker room with all of the momentum. It was his third pick of the young season and 11th of his four-year career.
“The thing about this game is we wanted to let him try to beat us running the ball, because we knew for a fact he wasn’t going to beat us throwing the ball,” Black said after the game. “If he put the ball in the air, it was ours.”
With just over 10 minutes to go in the third quarter, Bulls RB Demetrius Murray took off on a 33-yard run to put South Florida in scoring position. Two players later, Murray fumbled the ball, which was recovered by senior defensive end Duke Lemmens at Florida’s 12. The Gators would not wait long to capitalize. Brantley completed a 21-yard pass to Thompson to give UF some breathing room before handing off to Demps, who broke away for an electric 62-yard score.
USF stalled on their next drive, kicking to junior cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who replaced redshirt junior WR Chris Rainey (concussion) as punt returner. Jenkins returned the ball 30 yards to the Bulls’ 35, once again putting the Gators in scoring position. Freshman WR Robert Clark got the call on a 15-yard pass reception from Brantley. Now inside the 20, redshirt senior RB Emmanuel Moody carried the load to the South Florida four, where sophomore RB Mike Gillislee rushed for a short touchdown, putting UF up 21-7.
Florida continued putting the pressure on Daniels and USF, pushing him deep into the backfield on a second-and-eight play from the Bulls’ 48. Unable to find a receiver, Daniels’ pass was intercepted by senior defensive end Justin Trattou, who returned the ball 35 yards for a touchdown and extended the Gators’ lead to 28-7.
South Florida refused to go away, however, as Daniels took advantage of UF miscue in the secondary to complete a 51-yard pass to WR Evan Landi. Down on Florida’s 19, Daniels handed the ball of twice to Murray, who reduced his team’s deficit to 14.
A 69-yard return by Demps on the kickoff put the Gators at the 31 yard line, and a subsequent 26-yard rush by the speedster got UF inside the five. Unable to capitalize, Florida called on Sturgis to make his first field goal of the season, a 22-yard attempt.
Jenkins appeared out to get Daniels on the Bulls’ next drive, sacking him on first down from the team’s 29 yard line before intercepting him on the very next play. Looking to put the game away, Brantley, Demps and Moody led the Gators on a 13-play, 57-yard drive that lasted 7:22 and ended with a two-yard touchdown reception by redshirt freshman tight end Jordan Reed (the first of his career) to give Florida a 38-14 lead.
Demps electrified the Gators throughout the game, rushing 11 times for 139 yards and a touchdown, catching one pass for 21 yards and returning two kickoffs for 95 yards. Brantley was consistent through the air, going 18-of-31 for 172 yards and two scores. Thompson and Moore each stepped up in the passing game, combining to catch 11 balls for 123 yards, while Moody and Gillislee rushed for a total of 83 yards.
Defensively, Florida nabbed four interceptions for the second-straight game and fourth time under head coach Urban Meyer. Lemmens stood out with a fumble recovery and sack, and the defensive line got consistent pressure on Daniels in the second half.
UF extended its home winning streak to 12 games and won its 22nd consecutive regular season contest Saturday. The Gators are now 10-0 against intrastate opponents under Meyer and 9-3-2 all-time against the Big East. After giving up three turnovers to Miami (OH) last week, Florida held onto the ball Saturday and simultaneously almost doubled their yardage production offensively.
The Gators hope to build on their strong second half when they leave home for the first time in the 2010-11 season next week to take on the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville, TN. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m., and the game will air live on CBS.
Photo Credit: Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun