Passing game carries Florida offense

The run game the Gators have leaned on in recent years wasn’t there on Saturday against Eastern Kentucky.

To move the ball, Florida would have to air it out. It didn’t matter who was taking snaps either. Freshman Treon Harris started and went 4-12 for 162 yards and two touchdowns. He exited with knee contusion but will return and start next week against Florida State.

With Harris out, former starter Jeff Driskel came in and had a big day, going 9-11 for 164 yards and three passing touchdowns, adding a rushing touchdown later.

Quinton Dunbar (107 yards, 2 TDs) and Demarcus Robinson (137 yards, 2 TDs) made Saturday the first game under Will Muschamp where the Gators had two wide receivers go over 100 yards.

“Yeah, I’ve waited four years for that,” Muschamp said with a shy grin after the game.

The passing game wasn’t always pretty, but it built some confidence for the Florida quarterbacks and receivers going into next week’s game at Florida State. That didn’t always look like it was going to be the case. Through the first 18 plays, the Gators threw the ball just four times. One of those throws was a 70-yard touchdown to Quinton Dunbar, but without that play, Florida was averaging just 2.0 yards per play.

That didn’t matter much with the way Eastern Kentucky was playing. Coach Dean Hood elected to play aggressively, calling fake punts, fake field goals and even a double reverse pass. The fake field goal came at the Florida 11-yard line and didn’t get close to working, so the Colonels left plenty of points on the field Saturday.

But Florida knew it had to get something working on offense, so they started to throw the ball more as the game progressed when it was obvious the running game wasn’t going to work.

“It’s fun watching it,” senior right tackle Chaz Green said. “It definitely is, seeing some big plays, explosive plays made down the field. It was fun pass blocking and seeing the ball being launched down there.”

The day was especially meaningful for Dunbar. He scored the second touchdown of the game on a 70-yard pass from Harris. The ball was underthrown, but he came back to get it then slipped a tackle to get into the end zone. The second touchdown was even prettier. He ran a post route and went over a defensive back to catch a pass from Driskel.

Dunbar easily could’ve given up weeks ago. He was benched for the Missouri game because he wasn’t producing, but he kept working on the practice field to get his spot back. Saturday, he was rewarded.

"He’s a guy that continued to improve,” Muschamp said. “We came in here and (weren’t) really sure, his redshirt freshman year, how much he would help us. He went through some tough times, some tough times at home, but continued to battle, continued to fight.

“I've said this before -- I think he's one of the more improved guys. He steps into some adversity and didn't produce very much and got benched mid-season, and then he took advantage of his opportunity there at Vanderbilt when Ahmad went down and did a nice job. He's a guy that continued to work.”

Robinson, who Dunbar has taken under his wing like a little brother, was proud of the Senior Day the Miami native had.

“He’s a great leader,” Robinson said. “He helps me every day on and off the field with doing stuff right. I’m very proud of him.”

Robinson continued his strong season, catching his seventh touchdown pass of the year. He’s the first Florida receiver to do that since Riley Cooper caught nine in 2009. Even with the lack of a second receiver stepping up, Robinson has still posted big games and continues to give the Gators a deep threat that can also make people miss near the line of scrimmage.

“It was great, felt good to get that 100+ game,” Robinson said. “We had the defense off balance with me and Dunbar in the passing attack. That definitely threw them off.”

Harris threw touchdowns in the first half to Dunbar and Robinson, giving the Gators their first game with two passing touchdowns in the first half since 2012.

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