Notebook: Florida’s defense gets in on scoring

Florida linebacker Ventrell Miller returns an interception 82 yards for a score in the fourth quarter Saturday against Idaho at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Lauren Bacho/Staff Photographer]

By Zach Abolverdi, Correspondent

Florida set out to score early and often against Idaho, and it couldn’t have been scripted better Saturday.

Vandals quarterback Mason Petrino threw a sideline pass on the game’s opening play and Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson jumped the route, making a nice interception and returning it 26 yards for a touchdown.

“I don’t think we could have scored faster,” UF coach Dan Mullen said after the game. “Is that like the fastest touchdown in Gators history? I’m guessing that’s the fastest.”

Gardner-Johnson’s pick-six was the quickest Florida scoring play in a game since Andre Debose returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against South Carolina in 2010. It was Gardner-Johnson’s second interception this season and set the tone for Florida’s rout against Idaho.

The Gators also got a pick-six in the fourth quarter from linebacker Ventrell Miller, who took his 82 yards to the house. It was the ninth-longest interception return in school history.

UF has now had multiple pick-sixes in a game for three consecutive seasons.

Offense also strikes early

Florida came out clicking on the offensive side of the ball as well.

The Gators got a short field for their opening possession and scored quickly, driving 47 yards in three plays. After a 27-yard pass to tight end C’yontai Lewis, quarterback Feleipe Franks found the end zone on a 17-yard touchdown run to put Florida up by 14.

The Gators had not scored on their first series since the Tennessee game.

“A game like that could not start out any better,” Mullen said. “Get out, us to get an early lead. You’re playing this team in Idaho come out ready to play. What they’re looking for is a spark. They’re looking for something to get them going. For us to come out and start as fast as we did kind of kills that spark.”

Florida finally faces Vandals

Saturday was the first game between Florida and Idaho, but not their first meeting.

The teams were scheduled to play for the 2014 season opener, but the game was declared a “no contest” due to heavy rain and poor field conditions.

Lightning in the area caused a three-hour delay that night. When the Gators and Vandals took the field around 10 p.m., Florida’s Valdez Showers returned the opening kickoff 64 yards.

That would be the only action. Following Showers’ return, lightning strikes once again stopped play and the game was cancelled.

Florida has now won 19 consecutive games against first-time opponents with Saturday’s victory over the Vandals.

Top-50 recruit visits

For the third week in a row, Florida had a top-50 overall recruit in attendance Saturday.

Mississippi State defensive line commit Nathan Pickering (Seminary, Miss.) took an official visit to UF this weekend and was on hand for the Idaho game.

The 6-foot-4, 286-pound lineman is ranked the No. 27 recruit nationally by 247Sports. He committed to the in-state Bulldogs in June, but still has Alabama and Florida under consideration.

“My decision is gonna affect me for the rest of my life. I can’t take this lightly,” Pickering tweeted this week.

Last weekend the Gators hosted 5-star recruit Trey Sanders, the No. 1-ranked running back in the country from IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.). UF also brought in 5-star prospect and Georgia commit Travon Walker (Thomaston, Ga.), the nation’s top defensive tackle, for an official visit on homecoming.