Finally, in the fourth quarter, Brandon Powell broke the touchdown drought.
Florida hadn’t reached the endzone since the first quarter, but after five plays, 46 yards and a 26-yard touchdown pass, Luke Del Rio ran into the endzone and celebrated with his receiver, who broke a tackle and waltzed in for a score.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Del Rio said.
No. 25 Florida (1-0) beat UMass 24-7 in its season opener on Saturday night, a game that got off to a fast start but dredged into the mud as it wore on.
Florida’s first play from scrimmage was a hail mary attempt from Del Rio to receiver Antonio Callaway, but the ball landed five yards past the sophomore and bounced into the endzone, incomplete.
“I was excited,” Del Rio said. “It was probably the furthest I had ever thrown a football.”
Del Rio completed 29-of-44 passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns. But while the redshirt sophomore found success in his first collegiate start, the rest of Florida struggled.
UF was a 36-point favorite over Massachusetts (0-1), a team that has a combined eight wins over its last four seasons.
But, at times, the two sides seemed evenly matched.
Through the first half, the Gators did not have a run longer than 9 yards or a completion longer than 18 yards, and were tied with UMass for most of the second quarter.
And their problems started on the offensive line.
Florida’s line allowed UMass rushers into the backfield and into the pocket for much of the game, forcing Del Rio to roll out to complete passes on multiple drives.
“What bothers me is the way they just mope around and walk around out there instead of hustling to the line of scrimmage,” McElwain said. “Their energy has to be a lot better.”
Callaway was one of the few positives from UF’s offense, hauling in eight catches for 72 yards and one touchdown.
Powell caught seven passes for 73 yards, including a decisive fourth-quarter 26-yard catch that increased UF’s lead to 12.
And in his first college game, Eddy Pineiro connected on three field goals, including one from 49 yards, drawing chants of “Eddy” from the crowd.
“This is a dream come true, I’ve worked my butt off,” Pineiro said. “Whoever says they don’t get butterflies or any emotions are a complete liar.”
Meanwhile, Florida’s played its running back group as promised — by committee. Scarlett had a team-high 13 carries for 70 yards, and no other running back had more than six carries.
Scarlett, redshirt junior Mark Thompson, sophomore Jordan Cronkrite and freshman Lamical Perine combined for 119 rushing yards.
UF’s defense contained Massachusetts for most of the game. But in the second quarter, sophomore cornerback Chris Williamson allowed a 53-yard completion from quarterback Ross Comis to Andy Isabella.
“We made a lot of mistakes, we made a lot of errors on us. We caused a lot of our problems tonight,” senior linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “That’s something that we gotta fix this week in practice to make sure that we get locked down.”
Davis and Alex Anzalone anchored the defense. Davis, a senior, finished with a team-high nine tackles while Anzalone had six tackles and a 6-yard sack in the third quarter.
“It’d be hard for me to think there’s a better two (linebackers) in the country than those two guys,” McElwain said. “The way they compete and play off of each other and communicate. …those two guys are really good players.”
McElwain said he thought Florida played “just OK”, and that it will have to be better when the Gators open Southeastern Conference play next week.
“We gave that team a chance, let them hang out for a while,” Davis said. “When it comes to bigger opponents, stronger opponents, we can’t do that to ourselves.”