App-etizer: UF gets confidence back


Florida Gators defensive tackle Gary Beemer (61) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Appalachain State Mountaineers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010. The Gators defeated the Mountaineers 48-10.

Matt Stamey/ Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 5:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 20, 2010 at 5:37 p.m.

After experiencing three consecutive gloomy and depressing Saturday nights in The Swamp, the Florida Gators happily stepped back into the bright sunshine and had themselves a little afternoon fun on Saturday.

Facts

Three things to know

1. After notorious slow starters this season, the Gators came out smokin' Saturday, scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions to take control of the game.

2. After struggling just to get first downs a week ago, the Florida offense rolled up 547 total yards, a whopping 311 coming on the ground.

3. The one-sided victory gave Urban Meyer a chance to pull most of his starters early in the fourth quarter, giving many backups an opportunity to play. One of those backups, walk-on defensive tackle Gary Beemer, scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

It didn't really matter that it came against a Football Championship Subdivision team that was clearly outmanned from the start.

What did matter is Florida's 48-10 victory over Appalachian State gave the Gators and their fans a chance to relax, enjoy themselves and experience a victory in their house again after enduring the misery of a three-game SEC home losing streak.

Call it a feel-good, feel-better performance for a team that desperately needed one.

"I think everybody associated with the program needed that one," UF coach Urban Meyer said. "It was a must. That was kind of our message. You have no choice on this one. It was a must."

The victory on Senior Day improves UF to 7-4 (4-4 in the SEC) and sends the Gators to Tallahassee next Saturday with some of the confidence they lost in the humbling 36-14 loss to South Carolina a week ago. The Mountaineers (9-2) will move back into their own class next Saturday with the start of the FCS playoffs.

Just a week ago, Florida was a team deflated coming off the loss to USC that knocked the Gators out of the SEC Championship Game. It was UF's third consecutive loss at home.

For at least a day, the Gators reclaimed The Swamp.

"It's not back. We're going to work all offseason to get that thing (the homefield advantage) back," Meyer said. "You can't say it's back after you beat Appalachian State. (Winning in The Swamp) is something we beat into them when we first got here (in 2005).

"We've lost more games at home this season (three) than when did in the first five years (two). That's absolutely unacceptable. It will be a major discussion."

A home win Saturday at least gets the Gators pointed back in the right direction after that dismal three-game run at Florida Field.

Coming off the emotional loss to South Carolina, Meyer said he was worried about Saturday's game because Appalachian State is a FCS powerhouse that is well-coached in all phases.

It was a little bit of a scary matchup coming in, but the Gators quickly took control with a 21-0 first quarter and played loose and relaxed the rest of the way.

In fact, it turned into a typical Senior Day under Meyer.

Two plays illustrated that: Quarterback John Brantley caught a touchdown pass from Jordan Reed in the second quarter, and walk-on senior defensive tackle Gary Beemer scored on a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter in what was perhaps the most cheered and celebrated play of the game.

"Gary Beemer is one of my favorite players on our team," Meyer said. "He's an unselfish guy. Our players love him and he's going to be in a career in coaching. We said in the third quarter that if we got close, that we would give him the ball."

The Gators actually gave it to Beemer three times — once from the 4-yard line and twice from the 1. On his third try up the middle, Beemer crashed into the end zone, helped there by a push from behind by Reed.

"Yes, he did. Thank goodness he did," Beemer said of Reed's assist. "Now I have a great memory to cherish for the rest of my life."

It was all part of what became a much-needed fun day in The Swamp for the Gators.

"With those kind of losses (to USC, LSU and Mississippi State), you lose a little bit of something, a little juice and energy," Brantley said. "For us to be able to come out and play well for our seniors and have fun like we did, it's a big confidence-booster."

Just a week ago, the offense seemed to have no confidence or self-esteem to speak of.

But Saturday, the Gators efficiently executed their offense and started rolling up and down the field through the air and on the ground.

Brantley threw for 222 yards, and the ground game, led by tailback Chris Rainey and Reed, produced 311 yards. In all, the offense generated 29 first downs and 547 total yards.

And Brantley also had a chance to catch the first touchdown pass of his career — a 5-yard reception from Reed that gave the Gators a 28-0 halftime lead.

"I saw the corner bite and I knew it was coming to me," Brantley said. "I was like, 'Oh, don't drop it.'

"Coach Meyer came up to me after the play and said, 'If you would have dropped it, I would have pointed to the locker room. I would have sent you to the dugout.' "

But Brantley held on, and a team that could have split apart a week ago held together, and now the Gators have some restored confidence heading into their game at Florida State on Saturday.

"They were an outmatched opponent, but we went out and played well today," senior center Mike Pouncey said. "We needed that rolling into next week. It will build some of these guys' confidence back up. It's another must-win for us. If we win it, there will be a lot of proud guys on this team."

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