Florida, Muschamp open in style
Published: Saturday, September 3, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 4, 2011 at 12:03 a.m.
The Florida Gators celebrated the start of the Will Muschamp coaching era with a Rainey night in The Swamp on Saturday.
1. Senior tailback Chris Rainey ran for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown to lead the No. 22 Gators to the rout.
2. Although he was intercepted twice (once on a tipped ball), senior quarterback John Brantley looked very comfortable in Charlie Weis' pro-style offense, throwing for 229 yards and a touchdown.
3. When the game was on the line in the first half, the Florida defense was dominant. The Gators did not give up a first down until midway through the second quarter and produced four consecutive three-and-outs to start the game.
— Robbie Andreu
A Chris Rainey night.
The senior tailback from Lakeland turned in the performance of his career, rushing for a touchdown, catching a touchdown pass and returning a blocked punt for a touchdown, to lead the Gators to a 41-3 victory over Florida Atlantic before 88,708.
“He's just a very talented young man,” Muschamp said of Rainey. “He comes to practice and gives 100 percent all the time. He loves to compete and he's a lot of fun to coach. He really enjoys playing football.”
He obviously enjoyed himself Saturday night. He was a highlight reel in each of the first three quarters. He caught a 14-yard TD pass from John Brantley in the first quarter, ran 14 yards for a score in the second and returned a blocked punt 22 yards for a touchdown in the third.
His final score gave the Gators a 31-3 lead early in the second half, ensuring a happy and stress-free coaching debut for Muschamp.
Rainey rushed for 79 yards on 11 carries and led the Gators in receiving with six catches for 67 yards.
“I give all the credit to the offense,” Rainey said. “We were just out there doing our job. You're going to see a lot of rushing yards this year.”
Rainey wasn't the only happy Florida tailback Saturday night. Fellow speedster Jeff Demps rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns and caught three passes for 21 yards.
The two tailbacks accounted for five touchdowns and combined for 272 total yards, more than half of the Gators' total offense of 468 yards.
“I was really excited to see Jeff and Chris on the field,” Muschamp said. “I've been watching Chris through spring and training camp and Jeff in training camp. They are very special with the ball in their hands. And I'm very pleased with how John directed the offense.”
Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis said earlier in the week that he loved Demps and Rainey, and he obviously wasn't kidding. He called their number time after time -- and they did not disappoint.
“We got the ball to our playmakers,” Muschamp said. “Charlie does a great job of doing that.”
The guy who was getting it to the playmakers was Brantley, who further put his past miseries behind him Saturday night with a very strong performance. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 229 yards and a touchdown - and seemed comfortable and in command throughout.
“It looked like the old John Brantley in high school (at Ocala Trinity Catholic),” Rainey said. “Being a leader and taking over. He's got his confidence back. He feels good in the pocket and trusts everybody.”
Perhaps more important, he appears to trust Weis' pro-style offense. He probably could not say the same about the spread offense he struggled so in last season.
“I felt real comfortable,” Brantley said. “We had great preparation throughout camp and this past week and we were happy to be able to go out there and execute.
“My confidence is pretty high right now. It's not just with me, but with this team. I've got to give credit to the offensive line. They (the Owls) didn't get to me much and they opened holes for the running backs, and the receivers made plays down field.
“We were able to spread it out and give (the ball) to a bunch of guys. I have confidence in everyone out there on the field. The philosophy is to throw to the open guy, and that's what I do. It was a good start.”
For the Gators and for Muschamp, whose debut was a pleasing success.
“It was exciting,” Muschamp said. “The preparation I enjoy as much as anything else. I was excited for our players. It's all about players to me, about seeing those guys see their work come to a (satisfying) conclusion.
“It was a good opening night. You had a script you wanted to occur and tonight it did for the most part. Offensively, we did some positive things. We moved the ball well and John played extremely well.
“Defensively, I really felt we dominated on the line of scrimmage and we did a good job cutting off some receivers down field, and we played a lot of guys tonight.”
The defense opened the game with four consecutive three-and-outs. The Gators limited the Owls to 30 yards rushing and 137 total yards, and were in command throughout the game.
Led by Brantley and the tailbacks, the Gators scored on their first three possessions to open an early 17-0 lead and take control of the game.
Brantley looked like a much different quarterback than a year ago -- much more composed and confident in his decision-making.
“I just think he feels more comfortable with what we're doing,” Muschamp said. “I'm very pleased with John. I've been pleased with him since day one.”
FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger was effusive in his praise of the Gators.
“This group they have of running backs, tight ends and wide receivers is one of the best,” he said. “They have an outstanding offensive line. In saying that, I feel the same way about their defense.
“This team will be in the hunt for the national championship and will have a chance to win it.”
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