With a special “Mr. Two-Bits” introduction from The Old Ball Coach himself, newly-christened Steve Spurrier Florida-Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was electric as the Gator football season got underway. The visiting UMass Minutemen experienced The Swamp’s full effect as over 88,000 fans piled in to see the Florida Gators deal out a 24-7 win.
According to current Gator coach Jim McElwain, despite the win, the Gators gave up too many penalties and didn’t have enough explosive plays.
Heavy rain was a factor early on in the game, but as the weather calmed — so did quarterback Luke Del Rio and the Gator offense. Florida got on the board first, Del Rio hitting a wide-open Antonio Callaway for a 12-yard touchdown pass.
After throwing for a total of 256 yards and two touchdowns, McElwain says Del Rio performed well, taking care of the football and avoiding turnovers.
In the second quarter, UMass tied the game at 7-7 after a 75-yard drive of their own, with 35 of those yards being handed to them by Gator defensive penalties. Early on, Florida’s defense seemed to be over-running plays and UMass quarterback Ross Comis took advantage, evading tacklers and strolling untouched into the end zone for a five yard touchdown run.
McElwain says Florida’s defense played “just okay” in the season opener.
Midway through the second quarter, Florida added a second score via an Eddy Pineiro field goal — but those three points came off the board when an offside penalty prompted McElwain to try a conversion on 4th and 1. Inside the Minutemen 10-yard line, the Gators gave away a turnover on downs when Mark Thompson failed to pick up the first.
Defensively, Florida’s aggressive blitzes caused some havoc, including a 17-yard loss when Jarrad Davis sacked Comis. Davis says Florida put themselves into some bad situations, but came together as a unit for the win.
Heading into halftime, Florida made the score 10-7 when Pineiro added his first career field goal from 40 yards out. Pineiro says he blocks everything out before kicking, thinking of his family before the big moment.
Florida seemed to find its offensive rhythm in the fourth quarter. However, one promising drive was slowed by a 10-yard loss due to a strip sack, which Del Rio recovered — setting Pineiro up for a 49-yard field goal.
Florida’s second touchdown came through the air after a screen pass from Del Rio allowed Brandon Powell to break free down the sideline for a 26-yard score. A crisp out route by freshman wide receiver Freddie Swain added the two-point conversion, making the score 21-7.
Looking forward, Del Rio says Florida’s offense will make more explosive plays as time progresses – but limiting turnovers is more important than flashy plays.
Meanwhile, Pineiro still wasn’t done – he added a third field goal, this time from 48 yards out, to make the final score 24-7.
The Florida Gators will get back to work this week as they prepare for next Saturday’s match up against the visiting Kentucky Wildcats.