Florida hopes opening 'show' carries into SEC play
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida's season opener went about as well as the Gators could have expected.
The revamped offense totaled 655 yards and didn't have a turnover. The defense gave up 125 yards and posted a shutout. Special teams also were impressive. Together, the units gave the Gators their first victory in 11 months.
Hammering Eastern Michigan 65-0 provided a much-needed boost for a team that lost confidence last year, which ended with the program's first losing season since 1979.
Now, the Gators want a better test - a Southeastern Conference opponent.
Florida (1-0) opens SEC play Saturday against Kentucky, which has lost 27 in a row in the series.
''We put on a good show and that was something to applaud, but this is SEC ball now and we know the level of competition definitely steps up and takes another jump,'' offensive tackle Chaz Green said Tuesday.
The Wildcats (2-0) opened as a 17-point underdog, which seems low considering Florida's average margin of victory in the last 10 meetings is 29.4 points. Then again, the Wildcats have outscored their opponents, Tennessee-Martin and Ohio, by 62 points this season and have several players Florida recruited.
Regardless, the Gators realize this is an important step in bouncing back from last year's debacle.
''We're really excited to get into the meat of our schedule,'' said quarterback Jeff Driskel, who recorded career highs in completion and attempts in Florida's new spread scheme. ''Obviously Kentucky is in the East, and that's a big game for us. We want to win every East game like every other game. It's one we need. To have a good year, we'll have to win this game. We'll do everything in our power to do so.''
Florida was supposed to have two games - two lopsided wins, really - under its belt before playing Kentucky. But its original opener was canceled because of weather, leaving the Gators with just one tuneup before the Wildcats and just two games before what could be a critical SEC matchup at Alabama.
So playing well against Eastern Michigan was important on many levels.
''You know we talked about it as an offensive staff that it would be nice to have some success early because then it does feed on itself, it does help,'' offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said. ''If you go out and have some successful plays, and I'm talking truly about Saturday, go out in the first quarter and have some successful plays, it can keep growing. So you hope that's the case, you know, that our confidence keeps growing and we keep making plays.''
The Gators are making a few adjustments in the wake of injuries to tight end Jake McGee and left tackle D.J. Humphries.
McGee, a fifth-year senior and graduate transfer from Virginia, broke two bones in his lower left leg Saturday, had surgery after the game and will miss the rest of the season. Without him, fellow senior Clay Burton and freshman DeAndre Goolsby will be more involved.
Florida also will be without Humphries for at least two games, meaning he will miss games against Kentucky and Alabama.
The Gators moved Green to left tackle and will start Rod Johnson in Green's usual spot at right tackle.
''It takes some adjustment, yes,'' Green said. ''But I think this week in practice is something that will be good for me to get back and work that side and get my technique back down.''
Given what Florida went through last year regarding injuries, losing McGee for the year and Humphries for at least two games were the only negative aspects of an opener that did all it could to help the Gators erase memories of last year and prepare for a schedule that includes eight consecutive SEC games.
''It's always good at the beginning when you start out putting up big performances, but things get tough down the road,'' Green said. ''It's a long season so it can definitely change.''