GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—There were plenty of mistakes Florida coach Ron Zook could have harped on after the Gators’ 49-10 rout of Eastern Michigan.
The defense dropped at least three potential interceptions and also missed a tackle that allowed a touchdown. The offense, even with Chris Leak throwing for 244 yards and three TDs in the rain, wasn’t perfect either.
All things considered, though, Zook was encouraged by the way his players responded in the team’s hurricane-delayed season opener Saturday.
“I was concerned about getting a little stale, and I’m not saying we did,” Zook said of the unscheduled break the 11th-ranked Gators had the previous weekend because of Hurricane Frances striking the state.
“I know it affected me because we got ready to play and then we couldn’t play. … I think overall the things that I saw are very easily corrected. It is something you expect to happen, especially when you’re dealing with young guys.”
Leak, whose 6-3 record was the best of any freshman quarterback in the nation last year, completed 16 of 25 passes before being replaced by Galvin Dickey at the start of the fourth quarter.
Ciatrick Fason rushed for 105 yards and two TDs, while DeShawn Wynn, O.J Small, Dallas Baker, Billy Latsko and Skyler Thornton all scored once for Florida.
Leak threw TD passes of 10 yards to Small, 7 yards to Baker and 4 yards to Latsko before setting up Thornton’s TD for a 49-10 lead with a 39-yard throw to Chad Jackson to the Eastern Michigan 1.
Zook gave his players the weekend off after Frances forced postponement of the team’s scheduled season opener against Middle Tennessee State. Saturday’s starting time was moved up five hours to 1 p.m. because of threat posed by approaching Hurricane Ivan.
The earlier start, however, didn’t prevent the teams or announced crowd of 90,009 from experiencing severe weather.
Lightning delayed the game for 64 minutes midway through the second quarter with Florida leading 14-3.
Wynn scored on a 2-yard run less than three minutes after play resumed, making it 21-3. Leak threw his TD pass to Small for a 28-10 halftime lead after Eastern Michigan drove 82 yards to score on Matt Bohnet’s 20-yard pass to Eric Deslauriers.
Eastern Michigan (1-1) beat Mid-American Conference rival Buffalo 37-34 in its opener under first-year coach Jeff Genyk by running for 248 yards and getting a solid performance from Bohnet in his debut after transferring from Iowa.
“For me, I’ve been to venues like this before, at Michigan and Penn State, but this was the first time I actually competed,” Bohnet said.
The Eagles had some success moving the ball against the Florida defense, marching 91 yards after the opening kickoff to take a 3-0 lead on Andrew Wellock’s 23-yard field goal and putting together the 13-play drive that ended with Deslauriers taking a sideline pass from Bohnet and breaking a tackle before scoring.
But Anthony Sherrell, who rushed for 151 yards against Buffalo and an Eastern Michigan single-season record 1,531 last season, was limited to 24 yards on 16 carries. Bohnet was 19-of-36 for 201 yards with no interceptions, while Deslauriers finished with six receptions for 90 yards.
“Some things worked out and some things didn’t, but it was a great experience for the whole team,” Bohnet said. “I think we can learn from it.”
The Eagles’ opening drive made an impression on the Gators.
“They had us wondering what was going on in the first quarter. But there is definitely a point in time when you feel that you can overmatch these guys, and hopefully we can do that with a lot more teams this year,” Florida center Mike Degory said.
Fason’s 100-yard game was the second of his career. After scoring Florida’s first two touchdowns on runs of 8 and 3 yards, the 215-pound tailback broke a 44-yarder off right tackle to set up Leak’s TD pass to Baker.
Now, the Gators will turn their attention to next week’s crucial Southeastern Conference game at Tennessee.
“We are in SEC play now, and this is where you can tell the men from the boys,” Fason said. “We just have to go out there and play our game.”