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Florida 53, Charleston Southern 6: Gators light up the night in Dan Mullen’s debut

Florida overwhelmed an overmatched opponent in its season opener. It used to always be like this.

Charleston Southern v Florida Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The Florida Gators scored on their first drive against Charleston Southern in Dan Mullen’s first game as the Gators’ head coach on Saturday night.

They scored on their second drive, too. And the fourth, and the fifth, and the sixth.

At halftime, it was 38-0. At game’s end, it was 53-6.

And it was fun.

Feleipe Franks threw for 219 yards and five touchdowns — all in the first half, making him the first Florida QB with five passing touchdowns in a game since Chris Leak and the first Gator with five scoring tosses in a half since Rex Grossman — and paced Florida to a lopsided win over a clearly outmatched Buccaneers outfit.

But this was about more than Florida being better than its foe.

The five Franks TD throws? They came on five different plays, including a jump pass at the goal line clearly meant as tribute to Tim Tebow, and went to four different receivers.

Florida’s defense? Almost perfect in the first half, with a 70-yard run just before halftime due to a missed tackle resulting in zero points after the subsequent field goal was blocked, and impregnable through the air, allowing just two passing yards on three completions.

The Gators’ running game? In good hands, from Franks on down to freshman Dameon Pierce, with five runners tallying at least 24 yards each and Pierce leading them all with 75 yards earned on eight carries, most of them vicious.

Florida’s long-beleaguered special teams? Responsible for blocking that field goal, getting several good punt returns, one enormous tackle on kick coverage — by Pierce, naturally — and making sure the Buccaneers could not get seven points via another block that turned into a two-point return by walk-on Austin Perry.

It didn’t matter that Florida was missing seven players — six on scholarship — due to suspensions, and another six due to injury. It didn’t matter that Franks started somewhat slowly, with receivers dropping two passes on his first drive. It didn’t matter — much, anyway — that Florida struggled to get interior push and Mullen kept the Gators’ offense rather vanilla.

Nothing mattered much on this night, which is how it should be in games like these, in which Florida pays a football program nowhere near its own talent level to be vivisected before tens of thousands of fans in The Swamp.

A year after a 4-7 campaign, two years after a 24-7 win over UMass in a season opener, three years after needing overtime to survive a challenge from Florida Atlantic, and five years removed from a 4-8 slog, it felt good to take this win and this dominance for granted.

It might not last.

But tonight was fun.