Optimism grows with explosive offense

Kurt Roper’s offense had a lot to live up to in the season opener. Expectations soared during a long offseason for a fan base desperate for points after watching the offense sputter through last year’s four-win season.

And on Saturday, Roper’s group delivered.

The numbers were staggering in the 65-0 win over Eastern Michigan. Florida scored its most points since hanging 70 on Citadel in 2008, doing so with an offense boasting four players that would eventually be taken in the first round of an NFL Draft. It was the most points scored in the Will Muschamp era and only the second time under the coach that the Gators have scored 30 points in the first half. It was the first time Florida went over 50 points in its last 28 games.

It’s important to remember that this wasn’t a Southeastern Conference opponent. It’s hard to imagine a worse team on the Florida schedule for the rest of the season, but on Saturday, none of that matter. The Florida fan base needed this -- long touchdown runs, deep touchdown passes and plenty of throwing.

“Haven’t done that in a while,” Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said, grinning ear-to-ear after the game. “That’s the most points I’ve ever put up. I’ve never beat a team like that. I think a lot of (Florida’s opponents) are going to see this film and be a little nervous. We’ve got some home runs hitters and guys that can do damage in space.”

The game plan started simple, using the horizontal game to get all the players settled. Energy and emotions are always high in the season opener, but when it comes a week later than normal, the Gators needed something to calm the edge they had. The horizontal game provided that, and before the Gators could start to air the ball out, the running backs took over.

Kelvin Taylor got it started with a 31-yard run, untouched up the middle. Matt Jones kept it going on the next drive, taking a 40-yard run to the end zone. Two drives, one play each. It was a familiar plan back in the glory days for Florida football, but on Saturday, Roper’s offense gave hope to a desperate fan base that those days could soon return.

“Everybody’s buying in. Everybody believes in Coach Roper’s plan,” Florida receiver Quinton Dunbar said. “Everybody wants to play for Coach Roper and buy in because we know that his plan will work. It’s a lot more fun.”

The 65 points were enough to build the excitement, and they were also more than Florida scored combined in its final four games last season. The offense also sparked “We want 70” chants from the student section as the Gators ran out the clock. There were plenty of reasons for Roper to pack it in and go conservative with the offense. It had rained for almost 24 hours before the game started, and the ball was wet at times. It was also the season opener against a Mid-American Conference team that Florida could skated by without showing much of the playbook.

But there was more to be done on Saturday in The Swamp.

There was a fan base to energize and a group of players to breathe confidence into. So he spread it around. The Gators rolled through their depth chart at receiver, getting as many on the field throughout the game as possible. It ended with 11 Florida players catching at least one pass.

They took shots deep -- Driskel aired it out twice to Quinton Dunbar, resulting in a 42-yard catch on one play and a pass interference call on the other. Even when backup quarterback Treon Harris came in, Roper was still airing it out. Harris’ first throw went for a 70-yard touchdown to Demarcus Robinson.

With a 17-0 lead after the first quarter, Driskel could’ve handed the ball off for the rest of the game and got out with the win. Years ago, it’s something Will Muschamp might have been a big fan of. But not on Saturday. The Gators continued to spread it around and air it out, giving Driskel a career high 45 pass attempts to go with 31 completions, the first time a Florida quarterback completed more than 30 passes a game since Tim Tebow did it in his final collegiate game in the Sugar Bowl win over Cincinnati.

“Coach Roper has always said that he’s going to get the ball in everyone’s hands and everybody’s going to have a shot to play,” Dunbar said. “Everyone has an opportunity.”

A little optimism can go a long way for a fan base starved of it. And Saturday night in Gainesville, that’s exactly what the Gators provided.

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