A Blazing start

Published: Sunday, September 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 1, 2002 at 1:05 a.m.

Any tension and apprehension over this new start vanished quickly Saturday night in The Swamp.

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Florida wide receiver Taylor Jacobs hauls in a catch in front of UAB's Carlos Hendricks in the first quarter of the Gators' victory in the season opener on Saturday.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun

The Gators strapped on their seat belts and went zoomin' with the Zooker.

In an opening performance no less memorable than one 12 years earlier under a new coach named Spurrier, the No. 6 Gators made new coach Ron Zook an instant hit, turning it on and airing it out for a crowd-pleasing 51-3 victory over Alabama-Birmingham before a record opening night crowd of 85,575.

Any questions about Florida's offensive style without Steve Spurrier calling the plays were answered on the game's first offensive snap, when quarterback Rex Grossman dropped into the pocket, looked deep and fired a 59-yard strike to senior wide receiver Taylor Jacobs. Four plays later, tailback Earnest Graham scored from three yards out and the Gators were off - funnin' and gunnin' just like they promised they would be in Ed Zaunbrecher's offense.

"We've all known we've got some guys who can make some big plays and make things happen," said Zook, who received a Gatorade shower from his players in the final minutes. "We've said from Day One we have the capability of doing those things.

"It was a great team win. Rex had another great game. It's a great starting point to build on."

With their no-huddle, fast-break offense, the Gators put up some numbers that might even make Spurrier jealous: Grossman threw for 337 yards and two touchdowns, Jacobs caught eight passes for a school-record 246 yards and two touchdowns and Graham rushed for 182 yards and two scores.

That's the first time in school history Florida has had a player rush for more than 150 yards and a receiver have more than 200 yards receiving in the same game.

It all started with that first offensive play.

"It was a play we thought up on Tuesday: Let's go deep because they don't know how fast Taylor is," Grossman said. "The worst possible scenario is it's second-and-10. That first play was fun. I was in coach Zook's ear on Tuesday and he finally let me do it. It was a little play-action and deep to Taylor.

"It was fun going against another team. We knew we were going to play well. We were just anxious to do it."

The Gators rolled up 643 yards of total offense and outscored Spurrier in his opener by one point. The UF defense also had a good first night, holding the Blazers to 234 yards of total offense, only 90 through the air.

After a relatively slow first quarter (despite the early strike and score), Grossman and the Gators really got cranking in the second quarter.

Four plays after Graham broke free for a 50-yard run, No. 2 tailback Ran Carthon plowed into the end zone from 2 yards out for a 13-0 UF lead.

On UF's next possession, Grossman and Jacobs set things up with a 28-yard pass play, then Graham raced around end for 22 yards and a touchdown.

The Gators quick strike theme continued for the rest of the quarter.

The play after hitting tight end Aaron Walker over the middle for 24 yards, Grossman found Jacobs open behind the defense for a 46-yard TD pass and a 27-0 lead with 8:41 left in the half.

Appropriately enough, the first-half scoring ended with an 18-yard TD pass from Grossman to Jacobs.

In the first half alone, Grossman threw for 306 yards, Graham rushed for 117 and Jacobs caught six passes for 206 yards as the Gators rolled up 411 total yards and 17 first downs.

On the other side of the ball, new coordinator John Thompson's defense was just as impressive. After giving up some early yardage on the ground, the Gators overwhelmed the UAB offense, holding the Blazers to 117 yards of total offense in the first half.

It was an impressive debut for Zook, one that has Florida faithful believing. But, of course, Zook and everyone else will know much more about this team on Saturday, when the No. 1 Miami Hurricanes blow into Florida Field.

You can reach Robbie Andreu by e-mail at andreur@gvillesun.com or by calling 374-5022.

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