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Florida 24, Massachusetts 7: Gators sputter in Steve Spurrier’s return

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An expected blowout turned into a tighter-than-anticipated victory.

UMass v Florida Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Florida came into its season opener against Massachusetts as a five-touchdown favorite.

It won by a little more than five field goals.

The Gators’ 24-7 win over the Minutemen was marked by many of the woes that beset Jim McElwain’s program toward the end of its routinely surprising 2015 season.

Offensively, big plays were at a premium: After a failed deep shot on the first play from scrimmage, Luke Del Rio settled for dinking and dunking while running for his life for much of the night, completing no passes over 30 yards and just one, a 26-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Brandon Powell on a screen, of more than 20 yards. Gators runners combined to go just over 100 yards on the ground, and averaged under four yards per carry.

Defensively, a terrifying level of effort still didn’t make for a flawless game, as penalties for roughing the passer and a failure on a fourth and 14 helped extend UMass’s only touchdown drive. Florida’s lack of cornerback depth also looked like a glaring weakness on the evening: With Teez Tabor out and Quincy Wilson ignored, Chris Williamson yielded a 53-yard completion on a bust, and Florida failed to find receivers on crossing routes more than once.

The bad wasn’t the only takeaway from this game. Del Rio did throw for 256 yards and two touchdowns. Antonio Callaway did have eight catches for 72 yards and a score, and Powell had 73 yards and his own TD. Jordan Scarlett ran for 70 yards. Florida scored 14 fourth-quarter points to put the game away and never trailed. The Gators yielded just 187 yards of total offense, fewer than they allowed in all but one game in 2015.

And, maybe most promisingly, Eddy Piñeiro had a perfect night with his right leg, connecting on three medium-range field goals.

But this was supposed to be a walkover. More often than not, it felt like a tightrope walk — despite being a game against a purportedly overmatched team.

On a night when Steve Spurrier was honored, his glory days seemed far away.