Dooley: What you would expect


Florida Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) celebrates with teammates after a touchdown against the Massachusetts Minutemen during the first half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 in Gainesville, FL. Florida defeated Massachusetts 24-7. Matt Stamey/Gainesville Sun

Published: Saturday, September 3, 2016 at 11:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 4, 2016 at 12:32 a.m.

If we have learned anything from openers at the University of Florida it is that we rarely learn anything.

We come to The Swamp seeking answers and then in November we're trying to remember who the Gators opened the season with back on the first Saturday of September.

So we'll try not to overreact to Florida's way-too-uncomfortable 24-7 win over UMass on Steve Spurrier night.

If we did, we'd say things like this:

  • Have fun, defense. You're going to have to carry the team again this year.
  • Florida found a kicker, but is still searching for an offense.
  • Luke Del Rio didn't turn it over, but didn't do anything special. “I thought he did OK,” coach Jim McElwain said. “He'll get better.”
  • Florida's receivers and running backs must have had a butter fight before the game because they dropped way too many passes. “We've got to get a little bit better there,” McElwain said.
  • After all the talk about the Gators having five quality running backs, the offensive game plan was to throw almost twice as much as they ran the ball. McElwain said he thought the offense was balanced, but there were 44 passes and two scrambles compared to 27 running plays.
  • Florida fans came to the stadium hoping for a repeat of the first six games of last year and left thinking they were seeing the last six games of last year.

But it was the first game of the year for an offense still getting to know itself so we will chalk it up to nerves, unfamiliarity and whatever else you want to use as an excuse.

Blame it on Hermine.

The last band from the hurricane soaked a fired-up crowd for most of the first half, but failed to dampen the frenzy that was jump-started by Spurrier.

Instead, that was left to the offense.

It wasn't that Florida couldn't move the ball. The Gators had 21 first downs and converted more than half of their third-down tries.

Still, 24 points is 24 points and Eddy Pineiro, whose only mistake Saturday night was forgetting his mouthpiece in the locker room, supplied 10 of them.

Which is why, in a way, the anti-climatic finish of the game (a 10-second runoff) was the perfect way to send everyone home.

It wasn't the sexiest way to start a season, but it beats the alternative. Yes, I'm looking at you Kentucky.

It was kind of a strange night, especially because the scoreboard clock wasn't working in the first half. It felt like the past was more important than the present with all of the Spurrier salutes.

Then, the Gators went out and played a first half that was reminiscent of those old Spurrier teams, except for all the scoring stuff.

Florida threw the ball almost twice as many times as it ran it in the first 30 minutes and scored on its second drive. The rest of the half, the Gators took as many points off the scoreboard as they put on it.

It was more of the same in the second half, greasing up the passing game. But the drives couldn't get into the end zone and Florida held a too-thin 13-7 lead. You could almost imagine the Minutemen driving to a score to win the game and completing a less-than-stellar Saturday for the SEC.

But as we imagined a headline that said, “UMass Be Kidding”, the defense did what it has been doing for awhile here at UF -- set up the offense.

A sack, a stuff, a hurry and a punt return left Florida at the UMass 46. After four running plays (yes, four in a row!), Luke Del Rio fired a bubble screen pass to Brandon Powell.

Florida had been using the play all night, hoping a receiver could make a defender miss. Powell shook off the attempted tackle by James Allen and sprinted 26 yards for the clinching score.

There was a time when a 24-7 win over Massachusetts would have Gator fans apoplectic. But they know that openers only mean something when you don't win them.

They have a kicker.

They have the HBC back.

They saw enough to make them believe they might have an offense.

On this night, that was good enough.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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