College football: Gators run away from Owls, 35-14. Here are 5 takeaways.

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports

With a pair of dual-threat quarterbacks and a bevy of tailbacks, No. 11 Florida unveiled a more run-oriented attack in the opener Saturday night against FAU. 

Before a crowd of 86,840, the Gators’ new-look offense lived up to expectations in their 35-14 win. The passing game took a step back (153 yards) and UF finished with more rushing yards (400) than it did in any game last year. 

"Our explosive plays came on the ground tonight," Florida coach Dan Mullen said. "So we've got to look at that a little bit. Are we taking the shots we need down the field to be explosive in the pass game as well? But we're going to do what we're going to do. If we've got to lead the nation in rushing, we'll do that. Last year we lead it in passing. Do what our guys do well."

Florida's 400 yards on the ground set a school record for season openers, and Florida had 100-yard rushing performances from a quarterback and running back in the same game for just the second time in program history (Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin in the national title against Oklahoma). 

The big plays:Florida Gators vs. Florida Atlantic Owls: Video highlight reel

Long time coming:Florida sixth-year senior Rick Wells records first collegiate TD

Here are five takeaways from the game.

Florida running back Dameon Pierce (27) scores the first touchdown of the season on a pitch from quarterback Emory Jones (5) during the first quarter Saturday against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Mixed bag for Jones

In his first career start, Florida quarterback Emory Jones had an up-and-down performance against the Owls. 

His first two drives both resulted in touchdowns, with Jones completing a pair of third-down conversions on the opening series and capping off the second with his first touchdown pass of the season. 

But on the next two offensive possessions, the Gators reached the red zone both times and walked away with no points. Jones threw an interception in the end zone and then failed to convert on fourth-and-goal with a QB sneak. 

Jones responded after the half and led the offense on a 15-play, 88-yard touchdown drive to open the third quarter, but then went three-and-out and was picked off for the second time. He threw for 113 yards on 17-of-27 passing and rushed for 74 yards on 10 carries. 

"I thought he did a good job," Mullen said of Jones. "Missed a couple of reads out there. But I thought it was great for Emory to get that experience as the starter right now, for his first game out there. [Anthony Richardson] missed some reads too, but I think you see both of them have the ability to make explosive plays."

Richardson provides spark

Mullen turned the offense over to Richardson on four possessions, and the backup quarterback provided a spark every time. 

On his first series at the start of the second quarter, Richardson drove the Gators inside the red zone with three straight runs for 28 yards. 

Richardson then took over for Jones in the fourth, hitting a 26-yard run on his first carry of the quarter. Richardson reeled off a 73-yard touchdown on the ensuing drive — the longest scoring run by a UF quarterback since Trey Burton’s 80-yard TD against Tennessee in 2012. 

Richardson added two more runs of 22 and 11 yards on his final series. He completed his first three pass attempts for 40 yards and carried the ball seven times for 160 yards, becoming just the third Gators QB since 1996 to eclipse 100 yards rushing in a game (Tim Tebow, Jeff Driskel). 

"He did some good things," Mullen said of Richardson. "He's exciting with the ball in his hand, isn't he? Running around making some plays."

Davis eclipses 100 yards

Malik Davis got the start at running back and had his best performance since his true freshman year.

Davis rushed for 104 yards on 14 touches, taking his first carry 31 yards and also breaking off a 21-yard run on third-and-3. His one-yard touchdown run marked his first score since 2019 against UT Martin.

Saturday was also his second time eclipsing 100 yards in his UF career. The first came against Vanderbilt in 2017, when Davis rushed for a career-high 124 yards. 

"I thought he really ran the ball hard, breaking tackles, yards after contact, his vision, I thought he did a really good job with that," Mullen said of Davis. "But that's what we've been seeing and that's the Malik I know and expect to see throughout the season and he's really worked hard at that. I thought all our backs as a whole played pretty well."

Fellow senior tailback Dameon Pierce added 31 yards on six carries and a pair of touchdowns, becoming the first Gator to score two TD runs in an opener since Mack Brown in 2013 (Toledo). Clemson transfer Demarkcus Bowman rushed for 20 yards on four carries in his UF debut. 

Wells scores first career TD

With the loss of Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes, the expectation was for Jacob Copeland or Justin Shorter to be Jones’ go-to receiver in the opener. Instead, it was sixth-year senior Rick Wells. 

Despite backing up Trent Whittemore in the slot, Wells had a team-high 36 yards receiving on five receptions. He caught the first touchdown of the season from nine yards out, marking his first career score. 

"I was just excited to give him an opportunity to go score," Jones said of Wells. "He’ll definitely be in the rotation a lot. He’s been making plays at practice. He’s ready.”

It’s the second consecutive game where Wells has led the team in receiving. With Pitts, Toney and Grimes opting out of the Cotton Bowl, Wells made a team-high five catches for 36 yards against Oklahoma. 

Florida wide receiver Rick Wells (12) runs into the end zone to score a touchdown off a pass from Emory Jones during the first quarter Saturday against Florida Atlantic at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Gators get after Perry

Sporting his new No. 6, UF defensive end Zachary Carter showed why he was a preseason first-team All-SEC selection. 

With the Owls driving inside UF territory at the end of the first quarter, Carter forced a fumble and the Gators recovered near midfield. After leading the team with 5.0 sacks last season, Carter is already more than halfway there with 3.0 sacks against FAU quarterback N’Kosi Perry. 

"It was just one of those games. I was feeling it tonight and, you know, I’m excited for this year. I’m planning on having a big year," Carter said.

Outside linebacker Khris Bogle made his first sack of the season and the Gators finished with 6.0 total, tying their single-game season-high from a year ago. The defense also registered eight quarterback hurries against Perry, who was forced into several incompletions. The Miami transfer completed 19 of 33 pass attempts for 261 yards and a touchdown, but Florida held the Owls to under 100 yards rushing (92). 

"On defense, I thought solid at times," Mullen said. "I thought we got after the quarterback. I thought they [FAU] did a good job getting the ball out pretty quick early. And a lot of times when they got the drop back pass, we got a bunch of pressure, got some sacks."

Up next

Who: Florida (1-0) vs. South Florida (0-1)

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa


Radio: AM-850, 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM

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