Florida faithful today probably should be saying over and over, “It’s only Charleston Southern, it’s only Charleston Southern, it’s only Charleston Southern.”
And yet they should not be required to do that — or even think it — after what they’ve been put through for the last eight years.
This is a fan base that has been starving for offense — for first downs and big plays and points and really good quarterback play.
The Gators served up all of that in heavy doses Saturday night in The Swamp in Dan Mullen’s much-anticipated head coaching debut in Gainesville.
Florida, which averaged only 22.1 points a game last season, scored 38 points in the first half alone on the strength of five — count ’em, five — touchdown passes by Feleipe Franks and the Gators rolled to a crowd-pleasing 53-6 win before 81,164.
“It was a great win,” Mullen said. “We have a lot of work to do. We’ll get back to it on Monday and get ready for SEC play this week.
“You want to see huge improvement from week one to two. Let’s make some huge strides during preparation in everything we do.”
Yes, the lopsided win was against outmanned Charleston Southern and the big numbers are a little bit inflated. But that’s not the point.
What this performance is really all about is hope. It provides hope for better things ahead for an offense and a program and a fan base that has had little lately, especially coming off a 4-7 season.
“We can only go up from here,” Franks said. “It felt good. Our players did a good job in the game. To have a good game and get a victory is a good thing. It gets the confidence going for us.”
Franks, the redshirt sophomore who struggled so often and so mightily a year ago, looked like a different player — poised, confident, efficient managing the offense. He had the best performance of his career (and it’s not even close) and he did it in just one half.
Franks threw five touchdown passes to four different receivers — Trevon Grimes, Van Jefferson (two), Josh Hammond and Tyrie Cleveland — and completed 16 of 24 passes for 219 yards in the first half, then retired for the night.
He is the first UF quarterback to throw for five or more touchdowns in a game since Chris Leak had six against South Carolina in 2004. Franks had only nine touchdown passes all of last season.
“I think (his play) was pretty good,” Mullen said. “There will be some things on film that he missed. He also made some plays.
“His decision making, his communication, was pretty solid. I thought he made good decisions for the most part and made some plays. He had some good decisions in the running game as well, was able to move the team and put the ball in the end zone.”
Franks gave credit to his wide receivers, who were getting open and making plays.
“Our receivers had a really good night,” he said. “I tried to spread the ball around. We’ve got some big, tall guys in the red zone, quick as well. We’re all just scratching the surface. We have a long way to go to reach our full potential.
“It’s a big progression for me. Each year get better and better.”
While Franks and the Florida offense were flying up and down the field in the first half, an aggressive defense was stifling, holding the Buccaneers to just one first down, coming on a 70-yard run late in the second quarter. But even that didn’t end well for Charleston Southern, with Tyler Tekac’s 22-yard field goal getting blocked by defensive end Zachary Carter on the final play of the half.
When the game was decided in the first half, the defense overwhelmed the Bucs, who managed only 92 yards of offense, 70 coming on that one run by running back Ronnie Harris.
“That was a good start, just for the team. Great win,” Carter said. “We’re going to start building, and we’re going to build on that and keep moving forward.
“The guys are excited. Coming off of a season like that, we were trying to get these wins under our belt and keep building and building.”
The Gators played mostly with backups for the entire second half, but still managed to outscore the Bucs 15-6.
UF now turns its attention to the SEC opener against Kentucky on Saturday.
“Obviously, your first SEC game is a huge game,” Mullen said. “It really sets the tone for the season. This is going to be a huge game for us. It’s a team I’m familiar with. Mark (Stoops) is really familiar with us, what we do on offense and defense. We’ve played them every year. I’ve played them every year for the last nine years.
“We have to get to work. They have a veteran team, a very talented team and they have really high expectations. We have to be ready to go and crank it up this week.”
Who: Kentucky (1-0) vs. Florida (1-0)
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850