No. 3 Florida 62, W. Carolina 0
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Florida looks ready for Florida State—and the future.
Freshman Tim Tebow ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more, and the third-ranked Gators overwhelmed Western Carolina 62-0 on Saturday.
Florida scored touchdowns on nine of its first 10 possessions, using the Division I-AA opponent to prepare for next week’s rivalry game in Tallahassee. The Gators (10-1) also got a glimpse of the future, with numerous freshmen making an impact on “Senior Day.”
“Every time a freshman made a play, we would say, ’06, ’06, ’06,” running back Brandon James said, referring to his 2006 recruiting class. “We’ve got three more years to go. All of us knew we were capable of making plays. It’s nothing new to us. We’ve been seeing it in practice every day.”
James broke the school record for punt return yardage, returning six punts for 155 and scoring on a 77-yarder. He eclipsed the previous mark of 145 yards set by Jacquez Green against Kentucky in 1996.
“We’ve got his butt for three more years,” coach Urban Meyer said.
Tebow, who has been primarily a running quarterback this season, was 10-of-12 passing for 200 yards. He also ran for 47 yards.
“He’s pretty good,” Meyer said. “He’s a full-functioning quarterback.”
Freshman Jarred Fayson ran for 77 yards and a score, showing he could be a faster, more elusive version of Tebow in Meyer’s spread-option offense.
“That’s a big part of what we’re going to do,” Meyer said.
Other freshmen came up big, too. Mon Williams ran nine times for 95 yards, linebackers Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe filled in admirably for injured starters Brandon Siler and Earl Everett, and Riley Cooper caught three touchdown passes that covered 7, 55 and 20 yards.
Cooper dropped a sure touchdown in the first quarter. He bounced back to become the first freshman to catch three TD passes since Jabar Gaffney in 2000.
“It just feels great,” Cooper said. “It’s something you can’t really explain. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
The regulars did their part in the blowout, too.
Chris Leak, who received the loudest ovation as Florida’s 21 seniors were recognized before their final home game, was 9-of-12 passing for 100 yards and a touchdown.
“I was just happy to go through that whole deal,” Leak said. “I’ve seen it for three years and now it’s my turn. I’m just proud to go out with a win.”
DeShawn Wynn ran four times for 32 yards and scored twice. He jumped Meko Watson at the 14-yard line and strolled in for a 26-yard score on Florida’s first possession, then bulldozed his way on the next drive for a 7-yard score on fourth down.
The defense—even without Siler, Everett and suspended end Jarvis Moss— posted its second shutout of the season. The defense allowed 59 yards and four first downs.
The only downside for Florida was that receiver Dallas Baker sprained a ligament in his left knee. Baker, who leads the third-ranked Gators with 49 catches for 488 yards and eight touchdowns, got hurt on the first play. He was tackled awkwardly after picking up 6 yards on a screen pass.
The senior stayed on the field for four more plays, then limped off and was attended to by trainers. Meyer said tests revealed a sprained medial collateral ligament. He also said Baker was “probable” for Saturday’s game in Tallahassee.
Andy Horn made his first career start at quarterback for the Catamounts (2-9), who have lost nine straight. But Horn was helpless against Florida’s bigger, faster and stronger players. He was 5-of-12 for 35 yards.
“It was good for our guys to get hit in the mouth by a top team in the country,” said Western Carolina coach Kent Briggs, whose team faces Alabama and Georgia next season. “It will help us prepare mentally to play other SEC teams.”