The lights were still on in the stadium as most of the fans filed out of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and across the street to their favorite watering holes.
Excitement filled the Gainesville air after an electric performance from the Florida Gators that rivaled the 1,100 lightning strikes from a week ago. The team huddled together in the locker room, embracing each other and soaking up the winning feeling for the first time in 337 days.
Will Muschamp walked into the south end zone meeting room and addressed the media. He thanked the fans — who have been outstanding the past two weeks. He pointed out areas where Florida can improve and praised the players who provided Gators fans an exorcism of the demons that lingered from 2013. Then, he gave way to his players.
Max Garcia, Andre Debose, Quinton Dunbar, Matt Jones, Clay Burton, Jeff Driskel, Dante Fowler and Neiron Ball walked into the room. They walked with their heads held high, chests out and their smiles lit up the room.
All offseason the team has spoken with a quiet confidence — one that didn’t befit the 2013 version of the Florida Gators. Sure, there was some new guy from an ACC school that was supposed to bring an offense in to improve the team. Yeah, we know, Florida has talented playmakers on both sides of the ball but show me on the field, don’t tell me.
The Florida Gators had a secret.
Most of us assumed the offense would improve with Kurt Roper running the show, but not like this. Nobody could have predicted the 655 yards of offense, the 65 points, 27 first downs and 86 offensive plays. Nobody, that is, except for the players themselves.
“Last week we had a layoff so we were just definitely excited to come out today and show the world the new offense, what we’re capable of doing this year,” senior receiver Quinton Dunbar said. “We just know that the offense was capable of making plays because we did it all spring, we did it all fall camp. We just came out here and showed what we can do because we know what we’re capable of.”
With the clock winding down the fans started chanting, “we want 70! We want 70!” in regards to Florida sitting in the red zone with 65 points on the board. Florida fans were thirsting for points. Their dehydration was filled by half time when the Gators had already hung 30 points and by the fourth quarter they were drunk off an offense that hasn’t been seen in Gainesville since Tim Tebow was running over defenders like Bo Jackson in Techmo Bowl.
The team heard the chants and while, the requests may have come across as greedy, they may not have been unthinkable for the Gators players.“We’ve just been focusing on speed, physicality and execution and when that is clicking on all cylinders this is what happens,” Max Garcia said. “65 points, that’s what happens.”
In the past, Florida has been criticized for coming out with bland, vanilla offenses the first couple weeks of the season. Those offenses have led to uninspiring wins over lesser opponents. Despite hanging half a hundred through three quarters, Matt Jones says there is much more that we haven’t seen yet. “I don’t think we showed them all of it yet. I think we got some more showing to do,” he said.
The Gators talked the talk before the game. They entered hungry, confident and even a little pissed off. They took out the frustration of a seven game losing streak, a long offseason and a no-contest on Eastern Michigan. They put on a show for everyone on Saturday night but, according to them, that was just the opening act.
“I feel like that’s just what we can do, what we can do this year,” said Garcia. “That was the first game; we’re still getting the kinks out and everything.”
The Florida Gators made a statement on Saturday night. They scored more points than any two 2013 games combined. They amassed 240 more yards of offense than they did in any game last season and the defense pitched a shutout for the first time since November 22, 2012.
It’s just another notch on their belt, a check on the revenge tour schedule and the best is still yet to come.
“It definitely means something,” Dante Fowler said. “Every game we’re out to make a statement and [Eastern Michigan] was one statement that we made.”
“Next is Kentucky.”