Redshirt senior running back Malik Davis broke free, sprinting down the sideline for a 31-yard gain on the night’s fourth play. For the first time since 2019, 86,840 Gator fans roared in approval in a packed Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Traditional college football returned to Gainesville.
Florida handled business against Florida Atlantic Saturday, taking down the Owls 35-14. Davis and redshirt freshman backup quarterback Anthony Richardson led the way on the ground. Richardson finished with 160 yards rushing — the sixth 100-yard rushing performance by a UF quarterback — on seven attempts, while Davis totaled 104 yards on 14 carries.
Florida quickly found a rhythm on its opening drive. Using an up-tempo offense, the Gators cruised down the field, buoyed by Davis’ 31-yard run. They found paydirt on an option shovel toss from Jones to senior tailback Dameon Pierce to take an early 7-0 lead just three and a half minutes after kickoff.
Jones showed off his athleticism on the next drive with a Lamar Jackson-esque 23-yard scramble into Owl’s territory before hitting redshirt senior receiver Rick Wells on a screen pass to extend the lead to 14-0.
Florida forced its first turnover of the young season on the ensuing FAU drive, as edge rusher Zachary Carter forced a former Miami quarterback N’Kosi Perry fumble which sophomore Gervon Dexter recovered in opposing territory. Carter offered up a monster night, leading the Florida defensive line with a trio of sacks.
“I gotta give credit to my back end, they did a great job covering tonight,” Carter said. “It was just one of the games, I was feeling it tonight. I’m excited for this year.”
Richardson started the second quarter under center for Florida and kept the ball rolling, moving the Gators inside the 10-yard line after three carries for 28 yards. Jones came back into the game and proceeded to make his first mistake of 2021, tossing an ill-advised pass picked off by FAU corner Diashun Moss.
Despite the miscue, the Owls’ offense still couldn’t get rolling against the Gators’ defense as Florida defenders Jeremiah Moon and Amari Burney teamed up to stop a fourth-down attempt.
UF seemed destined to score once again at the FAU two-yard line, but the Owl defense completed a goal-line stand. Despite two empty red-zone trips, Florida entered the locker room with a 14-0 advantage.
Florida’s offense continued to rely on the run to march down the field in the second half. Pierce bounced outside from the three-yard line for his second touchdown of the game on third down to give Florida a 21-point lead with 6:37 remaining in the third quarter.
Three empty drives later, Jones made another error, underthrowing Wells and getting picked off by FAU corner Teja Young to keep Florida from increasing its lead further.
Richardson took over the Florida offense in the fourth quarter and immediately ripped off a 26-yard run punctuated by a vicious stiff arm and a 36-yard bomb to redshirt sophomore receiver Ja’Markis Weston to move the ball to the five-yard line. Davis accented the drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge to make it 28-0 with under eight minutes remaining.
“We just saw that they couldn’t stop us, honestly,” Davis said after the game. “Everything we wanted to do, we did it.”
FAU finally made its mark on the scoreboard, led by Perry uncorking a 46-yard bomb to Adams to put the Owls in the red zone. Richardson immediately answered, however, breaking loose for a 73-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 35-7. A late score from the Owls softened the deficit, but Florida emerged victorious, 35-14.
The Gators totaled 400 rushing yards compared to just 153 passing yards in the victory.
“We’re gonna do what our guys do well,” Mullen said of the rushing performance. “Our explosive plays came on the ground tonight… If we need to lead the nation in rushing, we’ll do that.”
Florida travels down I-75 next week for a battle with the South Florida Bulls on Sept. 11 at 1 p.m.
Correction: This article initially referred to Malik Davis as a redshirt junior. Davis is a redshirt senior.
Contact Michael Hull at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Hull33.
Michael Hull is a fourth-year journalism sports & media major and a sports writer at The Alligator. He hosts the weekly sports podcast and has worked on staff for five semesters. In the past, Hull has served as the sports editor, the men's and women's golf beat writer, the volleyball beat writer and the football beat writer.