Before a crowd of 90,043
fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday night, the seventh-ranked Gator
football team kicked off its 100th season in style with a 34-7 victory over the
Southern Miss Eagles. The triumph increased UF's consecutive
season and home-opening winning streak to 17, and improved Head Coach Urban Meyer's
record to a perfect 7-0 in The Swamp. In addition, the 1996 National
Championship team was honored during pre-game festivities in celebration of its
Senior quarterback Chris Leak (Charlotte,
N.C.) was 21-for-30 for 248 yards and
fired three touchdown passes, while senior Dallas Baker (New Smyrna Beach,
Fla.) had nine receptions for
123 yards and one TD. Making their respective collegiate debuts, freshman wide
receiver Percy Harvin
(Virginia Beach, Va.)
gained a team-high 58 yards on four carries and caught three passes for 33
yards and freshman quarterback Tim Tebow (Jacksonville, Fla.) scored a one-yard touchdown
early in the fourth quarter on his initial carry.
Southern Miss opened the
scoring 2:23 into the game, when senior Damion Carter
hauled in a six-yard pass from junior Jeremy Young. Three plays earlier, junior
defensive back Brandon Sumrall had intercepted Leak's pass at Florida's 28-yard line.
Following an interception by
junior Tony Joiner (Haines
City, Fla.) at Florida's
13-yard line with 3:45 remaining in the opening frame, the Gators evened the
score with an eight-play, 87-yard drive. Highlights of the drive included a
29-yard reception by Baker and a 12-yard catch by sophomore Cornelius Ingram (Hawthorne, Fla.).
On the final play of the first quarter, Leak found Baker in the end zone from
21 yards out and senior Chris Hetland (Leesburg,
Ga.) tacked on the extra
point for a 7-7 deadlock.
A 21-yard punt return by
junior Reggie Nelson (Melbourne, Fla.)
to Southern Miss' 36-yard line in the second quarter set up the go-ahead score
for the Gators. Facing 3rd and 1 at USM's 27-yard
line, Harvin took a reverse 23 yards down to the
four-yard line. Senior DeShawn Wynn (Cincinnati, Ohio) finished off
the drive with his 20th career rushing touchdown by running three yards up the
middle with 6:02 left until halftime to put the hosts ahead, 14-7.
After senior Darren McCaleb's 46-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide right for
Southern Miss, the Gators marched 71 yards on eight plays to build a 21-7
advantage. Leak hooked up with senior Jemalle Cornelius (Fort Meade, Fla.)
on a scoring toss from 29 yards out with 4:51 remaining in the third quarter.
With less than a minute left
in the period, senior Reggie Lewis (Jacksonville, Fla.)
picked off an errant throw by Young and returned the ball 35 yards to the
Golden Eagles' six-yard line. Although a penalty pushed the Gators back to the
11-yard line, sophomore Kestahn Moore (Arlington, Texas)
powered 10 yards just shy of the pay-dirt. From there, Tebow
lunged into the end zone. The conversion attempt failed, leaving Florida with a 27-7
cushion with 14:12 left. Leak later completed the scoring with 5:30 remaining
in the contest with his third scoring toss of the night, a 16-yard sideline
pass to Moore.
Florida held a 391-295 edge in total offense and was a
perfect 4-for-4 inside of the red zone. Leak completed passes to seven
different receivers, with the quartet of Baker (nine for 123 yards), Harvin (three for 33), Moore (three for 27 yards) and
junior Andre Caldwell (Tampa, Fla.)
(three for 16 yards) turning in multiple-reception
efforts. Defensively, the Gators collected three interceptions from Young, who
finished 13-for-27 for 129 yards and one TD. Junior Brandon Siler (Orlando, Fla.) led UF with six tackles, while the
trio of junior Ryan Smith (Diamond Bar, Calif.), senior Earl Everett (Webster,
Fla.) and Joiner contributed
five tackles apiece. The Orange
and Blue held the Golden Eagles scoreless for the final 57:37.
The Gators (1-0) will return
to action next Saturday when in-state rival UCF (1-0) comes to town for a 6
p.m. encounter in the Swamp.