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Gators throttle Hilltoppers in opener

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Posted: Sunday, September 2, 2007 12:00 am

What the Gators learned from their first game:

It?s a good thing they didn?t schedule Appalachian State.

The Southeastern Conference has strict lightning delay rules.

Tennessee won?t be this easy.

No. 6 UF romped over the Western Kentucky 49-3 in its preseason jamboree, er, season opener Saturday afternoon.

Both teams agreed to call the game after a 62-minute lightning delay stopped it with 8:23 left in the fourth quarter.

The Gators were one of many top-25 teams who opened with gimme games this week and put up lopsided results with Michigan?s stunning loss against Appalachian State being the outlier.

With 15 new starters, they needed a softee too.

"There's times where you don?t need a game like that," UF coach Urban Meyer said. "We needed that game with all those young players."

The highlights included a pair of 100-yard receivers (Andre Caldwell, Riley Cooper), a career day for running back Kestahn Moore (16 carries for 91 yards and two scores) and some late-game experience for a touted freshman class.

Quarterback Tim Tebow impressed in his first start, completing 13-of-17 passes for 300 yards and three scores in a little over three quarters of action.

The stats probably won?t be the same when the SEC season rolls around, starting with Tennessee in two weeks.

But UF started on the right foot and got some momentum going.

"It gets your confidence up, knowing that you can move the ball and make big plays," Caldwell said. "It lets you know who the playmakers are and who can get the ball to."

Tebow's opening act as starting quarterback was a masterpiece.

He completed his first six passes, including deep strikes to Caldwell (48 yards) and Cooper (59 yards) on the first two possessions.

The Cooper catch put UF up 14-0, and the Gators would tally touchdowns on their first four possessions to take a 28-0 lead in the second quarter.

The first teamers stayed in through the third until they went up 42-3, and freshman quarterback Cameron Newton added a 4-yard scoring scramble just before the rain came.

Forty-nine points in 49 minutes, very impressive.

So who cares if it was against a directional school?

"They call the plays, we make the plays," Caldwell said. "It doesn't matter if we have Tennessee, Georgia, anybody. They call the plays and we make them."

The defense looked equally strong after some first-drive jitters.

Western Kentucky, whose offense resembled a JV-version of UF's spread attack, gained 62 yards on its first series before turning it over on downs.

"That's never how you want to open up the game on defense, especially when you have them back in your territory," strong safety Tony Joiner said.

The Gators knocked starting quarterback David Wolke out of the game with a concussion and continued to jar his replacements the rest of the way.

"As we settled down, we kind of played the way we needed to play," Joiner said.

Only the rain could make the Gators go away.

"We kept get lightning strike after lightning strike, delaying, delaying, delaying," said Chip Howard, UF's assistant athletics director for operations and facilities. "Then we were talking to the coaches. … We started talking about what's realistic. We can't stay here forever. There were injury issues potentially."

The game was halted at 3:25 p.m. when lightning struck within six miles of the field, prompting an SEC rule to take effect.

The rule states that the game cannot resume until 30 minutes after the last lightning strike within six miles.

Both teams met during the delay and set a time of 4:30 to get back on the field.

When a bolt of lightning came down three minutes before that target time, coaches and administrators from both sides agreed to end it.

Meyer wanted to get his young players more time, but he, like many Gators fans, felt ready to go home.

"If we had to go play again, (associate head coach Doc Holliday) was going to go try to motivate that team to go back out there," Meyer said. "I was going to stand aside and have a Coca-Cola."

Welcome to the discussion.