The 2014 Florida Gator football team made quite a statement to their critics and fans in their season opener against Eastern Michigan in a blow out 65-0 win.
The Gators extended their opening day win streak to 25 games, which is the second longest nationally behind Nebraska’s 29.
Florida’s 65 point outburst were the most points scored thus far in Will Muschamp’s tenure.
Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s new offensive scheme was put on full display in front of 81,049 at The Swamp, as the Gators ran 86 plays for 655 total yards. The person who benefited most from this new offense was quarterback Jeff Driskel. He completed 31 of 45 passes for 248 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions. Driskel had already surpassed his career high of 22 completions five minutes into the third quarter. The last Florida Gator quarterback to have more than 30 completions in a game was Tim Tebow, who had 31 in his final college game, the 2010 Sugar Bowl.
The Gators got their first points of the season on a 33 yard field goal from Frankie Velez. However, it wasn’t long before Florida got their first touchdown of 2014. After defensive lineman Caleb Brantley recovered a fumbled snap from EMU quarterback Reginald Bell, running back Kelvin Taylor ran for a 31-yard touchdown on the first play of the six second drive to make it 10-0 Gators. Taylor finished with eight carries for 68 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Shortly after on the next Florida drive, running back Matt Jones, who missed most of the 2013 season with a knee injury, got his first of two touchdowns on a 40-yard burst up the middle. Jones was also the recipient of Driskel’s only touchdown, a four yard pass, which made it 37-0 Gators early in the third quarter. Running back Brandon Powell scored as well on a 12-yard run in the second quarter. The Gators didn’t have three different backs score on a running touchdown in the same game all of last season.
At the wide receiver position, Demarcus Robinson led the way for the Orange and Blue with six receptions for 123 yards and one touchdown. Right behind him was Quinton Dunbar, who hauled in five catches for 81 yards. Tight end Clay Burton had the most receptions with seven.
Robinson was suspended for what was supposed to be the Gators first game against Idaho. However, it was ruled a no contest so he was eligible to play against Eastern Michigan. Driskel was definitely excited to have him back.
“He’s a big time play maker and he can make plays on the ball down the field. You have to have big plays in this league in order to win. We’re happy that he’s back out there and that he’s contributing to this team because we’re going to need him this year,” Driskel said.
The Florida defense held the Eagles to just 125 yards of total offense. In addition, they forced five turnovers including four forced fumbles and a 36 yard pick six by true freshman safety Duke Dawson. He became the first true freshman in school history to return an interception for a touchdown in his first collegiate game. Gator head coach Will Muschamp said winning the turnover battle is huge.
“We stress it all the time. I think we do have some ball hawk type guys. I go back to 2009 I believe at Texas, I think we led the country in turnovers. We had a guy named Earl Thomas who was the 17th pick in the draft. I think he had seven or eight interceptions, he had four or five caused fumbles.”
Muschamp praised red-shirt senior Neiron Ball on his big game on defense as well.
“Neiron’s a very good football player. He’s a guy that can play really well in space as far as a linebacker is concerned. He’s got good off the ball instincts, he’s also a good end of the line player. He’s a very good pass rusher and we can get him in some match up situations. If people are going to slide the protection to Dante[Fowler Jr.], we can create some one on one’s for Neiron on a back or a tight end that will be advantageous for us.”
After Dawson’s pick six made it 51-0 Gators late in the third quarter, Jeff Driskel was done for the day; that gave back up quarterback Treon Harris a chance to get some reps. He wasted no time showing why he deserved to be the back up quarterback. On his first pass as a Gator, Harris hit wide receiver Demarcus Robinson on a 70-yard touchdown strike, but Harris wasn’t done. On his second drive, the true freshman connected on a 78-yard touchdown bomb to tailback Mark Herndon. It’s only the first game of the season and Harris already has a career QB rating of 1,051.6.
“I told Kurt the guy[Treon Harris] needs to play. We need to play the guy, we don’t need to sit on the ball,” Muschamp said. “We need to take some shots and we did that. We had a smash called in the boundary which we felt like based on how they had been playing to that point was just going to be a hitch ball thrown into the boundary, but they rolled up into cover two and he took right to his middle read throw to Mark Herndon.”
Despite the much needed blowout victory for the Gators, it did come at a price. Florida lost tight end Jake McGee for the season after he broke his tibia and fibula in the second quarter. The injury occurred when 360-pound offensive tackle, Trenton Brown, rolled up on McGee’s left ankle and leg. McGee transferred from Virginia Tech after earning his undergraduate degree and was expected to be a key contributor in Roper’s new offensive game plan.
“I’m so disappointed for him,” Muschamp said. “It’s very difficult to come into a situation for one year, and he’s done it as well as you could imagine.”
After McGee was carted off the field, senior Clay Burton stepped up by making a career high seven catches for 42 yards.
“I think he proved that he’s a complete tight end,” Driskel said. “His hands have continued to get better. He worked a lot on that in the offseason. I think he had a really good game and I think it was seven catches which has to be a career high.”
Another Gator to suffer an injury in the season opener was starting left tackle D.J. Humphries. He suffered a chipped bone in his ankle that will sideline him for two to three weeks, but Muschamp said “no surgery is needed.”
Florida knows its next game won’t be this easy, but it was a pretty good tune up to get them ready for SEC play. Now the Gators will turn their sights on their first SEC game of the season, which will be against Kentucky this Saturday.
Kickoff from The Swamp is scheduled for 7:30.
For audio of the above quotes, click below: