Okay, forget that it was Eastern Michigan, winner of only 39 games since 2000 and a team in town long enough to pick up a paycheck. Florida has faced other catfish that feed on the bottom of Division I in the last three years and hasn’t put on nearly as good a show as the Gators put on Saturday afternoon in the debut of Kurt Roper’s no huddle, faster tempo offense. In taking out the Eagles, 65-0, the most points the Gators have scored in a game since their 62-3 thrashing of Florida International back in 2009, Florida ran 86 plays, good for 655 yards and eight touchdowns in spite of spending the last 12 minutes trying to kill the clock.
“I’m very pleased with what we were able to do today,” said Florida head coach Will Muschamp post game. “We hit some big plays but missed a couple.”
The Gators didn’t miss too many plays on either side of the ball as they backed up the offensive effort with a defense that turned in the first shutout since the 23-0 win over Jacksonville State in 2012. The Gators allowed only seven first downs and held Eastern Michigan to 3-14 on third down conversions. The Eagles managed only 125 total yards, 80 on the ground and 45 through the air. Florida’s defense forced five turnovers, four fumbles and an interception which freshman Duke Dawson ran back 36 yards for a fourth quarter touchdown.
The defense was certainly exceptional, but that’s what you expect of a Muschamp-coached team. It was the offense that created the buzz.
To put what the Gators did in perspective, consider this: last year the Gators averaged only 18.8 points, 316 yards and 66 plays per game. By the time the first half came to a merciful end with Florida leading, 30-0, the Gators already had run 50 plays – 33 of them passes – and had racked up 316 yards.
The staple of Roper’s version of the spread offense is a combination of power running and short, quick passes, but there was no lack of deep throws. Jeff Driskel went 31-44 throwing the ball, good for 244 yards and a touchdown, but he took at least six shots deep down the field, connecting with Quinton Dunbar for a 42-yard completion. In the fourth quarter, true freshman quarterback Treon Harris completed his only two passes for touchdowns but both were deep balls, one of 70 yards for a touchdown to Demarcus Robinson and another for 78 to Mark Herndon. Tight end Clay Burton, who came into the game with three career catches for 24 yards, had seven, good for 42, against the Eagles. Robinson had six catches for 123 yards and Dunbar had five for 81.
The running game was extremely effective, producing 259 yards (6.6 per carry) and four touchdowns, two by Kelvin Taylor who ran for 68 yards, and one each from Matt Jones and Brandon Powell. Taylor’s touchdowns came on runs of 31 and six yards. Jones, who ran for 65 yards, had touchdowns on a 40-yard scoring run and a 4-yard scoring pass from Driskel. Mack Brown ran for 58 and had the longest run of the game, 47 yards.
The offensive yardage was the most of the Muschamp era at Florida, topping the 555 the Gators racked up against Tennessee in 2012. This was only the third time since 2011 that the Gators have totaled more than 500 yards in a game. The 65 points were the most for any Muschamp era team since the 54-32 win over D1AA Furman in 2011. This was only the fifth time since 2011 that the Gators have scored 40 or more points in a game.
While there was plenty to celebrate on both sides of the ball, the game did take a toll on the Gators. Tight end Jake McGee, who was expected to be a big part of the offense this year after transferring in from Virginia, suffered a broken tibia/fibula in the second quarter and is lost for the season. Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries has a bone chip in his ankle which is expected to keep him out of the lineup for perhaps two weeks.
FLORIDA 3, EMU 0: Frankie Velez got the first points of the season for the Gators, nailing a 33-yard field goal to cap a 16-play, 67-yard drive on Florida’s first possession of the season. Jeff Driskel hit his first seven passes including completions of 17 and 11 yards to Quinton Dunbar. The drive stalled out at the Eastern Michigan 16 where Velez came on to give the Gators the lead with 6:44 left in the half. Florida controlled the ball for 6:31.
FLORIDA 10, EMU 0: The first touchdown of the season came on a 31-yard Kelvin Taylor run straight up the gut just 44 seconds after Velez had put the Gators on the board. The one-play scoring drive came after Caleb Brantley pounced on a Reginald Bell second down fumble. Velez kicked the extra point to make it a 10-0 Florida lead with 6:00 left in the first quarter. The official time of possession this scoring drive was six seconds.
FLORIDA 17, EMU 0: A 29-yard punt return by Andre Debose was the jump start for Florida’s second touchdown. Following a pass interference penalty on the Eagles on first down, Matt Jones rambled 40 yards down the middle of the field for Florida’s second touchdown of the game. Velez kicked the extra point with 4:48 to go to cap the one-play, 55-yard drive.
FLORIDA 24, EMU 0: Florida’s most impressive first half drive went 10 plays for 77 yards, ending with a 12-yard sprint to the end zone by freshman Brandon Powell with 13:49 left in the half. The big play on the drive was a 42-yard deep ball from Driskel to Dunbar down the east sideline. Velez kicked the extra point to make it 24-0.
FLORIDA 27, EMU 0: Following a Neiron Ball sack that forced a fumble recovered by Antonio Morrison, the Gators needed 10 plays to get on the board again, this time the second field goal of the game from Velez from 36 yards out with 6:30 left in the half. The drive got hijacked on a holding call against Trenton Brown on first down from the EMU 22. McGee was lost for the season on this drive when he got his leg rolled up under him on a one-yard run by Jones.
FLORIDA 30, EMU 0: Another drive stalled in the red zone toward the end of the half but the Gators came away with points. The Gators got the ball to the EMU 17 but three straight pass plays netted only five yards, bringing on Velez to kick a 29-yard field goal with 13 seconds left in the half to cap the 12-play, 59-yard drive.
FLORIDA 37, EMU 0: Driskel was 7-9 for 54 yards on Florida’s opening drive of the second half, which ended with a 4-yard scoring pass to Matt Jones on a third and goal with 9:18 remaining in the third quarter. Driskel was 3-3 on third downs on the drive, keeping the chains moving with completions of 11 and 10 yards, both to Demarcus Robinson, before he threw the touchdown pass to Jones to end the 13-play, 75-yard drive. With the Velez extra point, the Gators had more points on the board than at any time last season.
FLORIDA 44, EMU 0: The highlight reel play of the day, a 55-yard punt return by Debose set up a three-play, 20-yard scoring drive that ended with Taylor’s second touchdown of the game on a 6-yard jaunt around the right side. Debose crisscrossed the field twice and used a dazzling spin move to break free on his punt return that ended on the EMU five. A 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty against the Gators set the ball back to the 20, but that hardly mattered. A Driskel pass to Latroy Pittman and two Taylor runs put the ball in the end zone and Velez finished things off with the extra point.
FLORIDA 51, EMU 0: Freshman Duke Dawson made his first collegiate game one to remember, picking off a Rob Bolden pass and running it back 36 yards for a touchdown with 2:51 left in the quarter. The interception was the result of serious pressure up the middle from Alex McCallister, who hit Bolden just as he threw the ball. Velez added his sixth extra point of the game to ice the cake for Dawson.
FLORIDA 58, EMU 0: Treon Harris will remember the first pass of his college football career. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Harris went deep down the middle to connect with Demarcus Robinson, who made the catch, broke a tackle and practically walked the final 25 yards into the end zone to finish off a 70-yard scoring play with 14:47 remaining.
FLORIDA 65, EMU 0: As if that first pass wasn’t good enough, Harris struck gold on the second pass of his career, connecting with Mark Herndon on a slant that split the safeties and wound up going 78 yards for a touchdown with 12:08 left in the game. Velez made it 8-8 on extra points.