Gators top the Hill

No major surprises in the season debut of the defending national champs – lots of speed on offense and lots of inexperience on defense. The Florida Gators kicked off their 2007 campaign with an easy 49-3 win over visiting Western Kentucky in front of 90,086 in The Swamp on Saturday afternoon.

For all the talk about moving the start time to 12:30 p.m. and the effects of the heat, it was the rain that dampened the Gators' season opener. At the 8:23 mark of the fourth quarter both teams were sent to their respective locker rooms because of lightning strikes. They never came back onto the field and for the first time in Florida Field history, a game was terminated because of weather.

Still, Gator fans had to lots to cheer about, especially early on. No one can question the throwing ability of Tim Tebow after completing 13-of-17 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start.

"He did very well," Urban Meyer said after the game. "Overall, I was very impressed with the way he threw the ball."

Tebow completed his first five passes from scrimmage, throwing for 147 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for a 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter, but this was a different Tebow from last season. Instead of taking opposing defenses straight on, Tebow stepped out of bounds instead. And after the game, Meyer said there were no running plays even called for him, and yet he still managed to pick up 38 yards on the ground.

"Last year, we utilized Tim's talents," Meyer said "That was never because he could not function as a quarterback, but because we didn't need him in that situation. He has improved, but probably not to the extent where everyone expects us to say that last year he just couldn't do it. He was fine last year, but we had the other guy."

The Gators scored on their first four possessions, jumping out to a 28-0 lead. What was so impressive was their offensive efficiency. UF had the ball just 8:37 on their first four scoring drives.

On Florida's first possession, Tebow connected with senior Andre Caldwell on a 48-yard passing play. It would eventually set up Tebow's 1-yard touchdown run. The sophomore would hook up with the senior two more times, including a 43-yard pass play that set up a third quarter touchdown. Caldwell finished with three catches for 103 yards.

Caldwell wasn't the only receiver to have a big day, in fact, he didn't even have the best day. Sophomore Riley Cooper also pulled in four catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns. Tebow connected with Cooper on a 59-yard pass play with 2:03 left in the first quarter, giving the Gators a 14-0 lead.

"Tim told me he was one of our best deep threats last year before he got hurt," Meyer said. "He has a knack because he's big and extremely fast, so he deserves a few more shots."

The two connected again in the third quarter on a 42-yard pass play immediately following Caldwell's 43-yard catch.

Percy Harvin had three receptions for 53 yards with a 19-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. Harvin also rushed three times, including a direct snap, gaining 25 total yards.

"The one who we need to get it to more is Percy," Meyer said. "The one touchdown he had was a 20-yard throw, but he has dynamic speed."

After years of searching for a competent tailback, Urban Meyer may have found his man. Kestahn Moore carried 16 times for 92 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Moore, who said during the preseason that he wants to be more of a power back, gained most of his yards in the second half. He carried 10 times for 62 yards in the third quarter alone, and he rushed for a 3-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

"I thought he ran real well," Meyer said. "I was excited about that. He deserved that. He only had five in the first half, and we made an effort to give it to him."

The defense showed its youth right from the get go, allowing Western Kentucky to sustain a long drive on the Hilltoppers' first possession. WKU returned the game's opening kick to its own 28-yard line before driving the length of the field on a solid mix of pass and run. WKU quarterback David Wolke went 3-of-4 on the opening drive, including a 29-yard pass play on the game's first play.

But in their first test, the Gator defense stuffed the Hilltoppers inside the red zone. Western Kentucky faced a fourth-and-1 from the Florida 10-yard line, but Dustin Doe stopped tailback Tyrell Hayden for no gain and a turnover on downs.

"We don't have great push up the middle," Meyer said. "We're going to have to work on that a little bit especially for the SEC. I thought we had great push on the edge with Derrick Harvey and Jermaine Cunningham. We need to create some push and we can do that with games, but we're also looking for someone to step up."

After freshman Chas Henry's first career punt went for just 20 yards, setting up the Hilltoppers with decent field position, WKU put points on the board before the half. They drove 53-yards in 1:29, and settled for a 26-yard field goal, cutting the Gator led to 28-3 at halftime.

The Gators allowed 204 total yards – 156 passing and 48 rushing. Henry punted three times with his final attempt going 49 yards. Florida also failed to force a turnover.

Florida faces Troy next Saturday in The Swamp at 6:00 p.m.


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