GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Chris Leak answered all those questions about whether he could run Urban Meyer’s spread offense.
Leak completed 26 of 34 passes for 320 yards and three touchdowns, broke Steve Spurrier’s school record for consecutive completions and led No. 10 Florida to a 32-14 victory over Wyoming in Meyer’s debut with the Gators on Saturday.
The offense sputtered at times, but made several big plays and scored touchdowns on three passes from Leak to Chad Jackson. The receiver finished with 10 catches for 138 yards and added a 5-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter.
The defense was equally sharp. Yes, Florida’s defense. Nearly the same unit that collapsed in losses to Tennessee, LSU and Mississippi State last season looked completely different against the Cowboys (0-1).
Defensive end Ray McDonald put steady pressure on quarterback Corey Bramlet. Linebackers Brandon Siler and Earl Everett made tackles all over the field. And cornerback Vernell Brown intercepted a pass and had several deflections, showing one reason why Meyer dubbed him “the face of Florida football.”
The defense might have overshadowed Leak had the quarterback not received so much offseason and preseason attention regarding the new scheme.
Meyer said the one question he was asked more than any other when he spoke to 13,000 fans at 18 different Gator Club gatherings this summer was whether Leak could direct the same offense that made Alex Smith the top pick in the NFL draft.
Leak showed he could Saturday.
He called audibles—which he didn’t do the last two years—made good decisions while running the option and was most effective from the pocket. He also made the school record book as Florida won its 16th consecutive season opener.
Leak completed 17 consecutive passes between the first and third quarters, breaking Spurrier’s mark set in 1966. Spurrier hit 16 in a row at Florida State on Oct. 8, 1966, then matched his mark the following week at North Carolina State.
Although Leak’s record-setting night included many shovel passes to receivers and running backs, it also had a few perfectly thrown deep balls.
He underthrew Andre Caldwell on Florida’s first play of the game, then short-hopped a pass to Jemalle Cornelius on the next drive. But he settled down on the third possession.
Leak hit Jackson with a 23-yard pass that gave the Gators their first first down. A few plays later, he connected with Jackson down the sideline for a 26-yard score the receiver nabbed with one hand.
The duo hooked up again for a 7-yard score on the following drive, and Leak found Jackson again for a touchdown to start the third quarter.
Florida’s Chris Hetland also kicked two field goals, including a 47-yarder. The other came after Leak’s longest pass of the game—a 63-yarder to Caldwell.
The Cowboys, who returned nine starters on an offense that ranked 36th in the nation in passing last season, struggled early.
They trailed 23-0 before getting on the scoreboard following a 66-yard kickoff return by Jovon Bouknight.
Four plays after converting on fourth-and-3 from the Florida 27, Bramlet scored from 4 yards out. Bouknight’s 18-yard TD reception with about five minutes to play made it 32-14.
The Gators played without starting running DeShawn Wynn, who was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Wyoming relied on freshman running back Wynel Seldon because of knee injuries to Ivan Harrison and Joe Harris. Seldon ran 18 times for 56 yards.