For a little less than a half, the Florida Gators held a Senior Day celebration in The Swamp on Saturday. Then, with a big early lead, they switched things up and turned it into Young Guy Day at Florida Field.
By the time it was all over, it was Happy Day for everyone — a 63-10 rout of outmanned Idaho before 81,467 that moves the Gators to 8-3 on the season and keeps UF in contention for a New Year’s Day 6 bowl game.
“Our seniors, great way for them to finish their last game here in The Swamp. Get a big win,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “Really pleased with how they all played, how we played in the first half. We came out and wanted to play great. They did that as the game went on.
“Obviously, a lot of young guys got opportunities to get into the game. A lot of teaching moments for those guys with what it’s like when you’re a factor now, when you’re not just cheering from the sidelines. You’ve got to go play and keep your head in the game.”
Going into Saturday’s non-conference game, the plan was to build an early lead and then turn the game over to many of the true freshmen who will still have a chance to redshirt this season and the other young players.
The Gators executed the plan to near-perfection. And they did it quickly.
In what has go down as one of the fastest touchdowns at the start of a game in football history, the Gators took a 7-0 lead six seconds into the game on a 26-yard pick-six by safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson on the first offensive play.
It set the tone.
A few minutes later, quarterback Feleipe Franks ran 17 yards for a touchdown to give UF a 14-0 lead with 12:46 remaining in the first quarter.
The Gators were off and running — actually, off and passing — from there.
In less than two quarters of work, Franks completed 19 of 27 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns.
His 34-yard TD pass to Tyrie Cleveland with 5:22 left in the first half gave the Gators a 42-0 lead and signaled the end of Senior Day and the start of Young Guy Day.
It all started with the much-anticipated appearance of true freshman quarterback Emory Jones, who took over the offense with 3:53 left in the second quarter.
“I wanted to get him in the game as soon as possible,” Mullen said. “Our decision is if we we’re going to get him in, we wanted to get him in as soon as possible. I wanted him to get as many reps as possible.
“It was 42-0. … as soon as it hit that, I said, ‘You’re going.’ It was great to get him in as early as we did.”
Jones did not disappoint.
In his first possession, Jones led the Gators 76 yards for a touchdown, the score coming on an 8-yard pass to Josh Hammond. Along the way, Jones threw a deep strike to true freshman tight end Kyle Pitts that was dropped, ran 15 yards to convert a third-and-eight, and put UF on the Idaho 8-yard line with a 35-yard pass to Trevon Grimes.
For the game, Jones completed 12 of 16 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 15 yards on seven carries.
“I thought he did pretty good,” Mullen said. “Missed a couple things. Some great little leadership things with him. The young guys, they look to the quarterback to be the leader.
“There’s a lot he can build off of from this game. I thought he made good decisions. I didn’t see any bad decisions, really, with where he went with the ball. He did pretty good. He can throw the ball.”
True freshman running back Dameon Pierce summed up Jones’ performance in six words.
“According to me, my dog ball,” he said.
Jones was one of several young players who impacted Saturday’s game.
Here are some others:
• Pierce led the Gators in rushing with 77 yards on 13 carries.
• Pitts caught a 52-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and his role in the offense continues to grow.
• True freshman wide receiver Jacob Copeland, in his first playing time, caught a 16-yard pass, had a 15-yard run and showed he can be an effective blocker on the perimeter.
• Redshirt freshman linebacker Ventrell Miller returned an interception 82 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
• True freshmen Chris Bleich, Richard Gouraige and Griffin McDowell played on the offensive line.
• True freshmen Davis Reese and Andrew Chatfield played at linebacker, along with true freshman Malik Langham at defensive end.
In all, 15 true freshmen played in Saturday’s game.
“It was great seeing all my fellow classmates play,” Pierce said. “The older guys really set the tone the first two quarters and gave us a chance to go out there. We had a chance to see where we were as an athlete and where we were as a student of the game. Everybody performed for the most part.”
Who: Florida (8-3) vs. Florida State (5-6)
When: 12 p.m. Saturday
Where: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850