After a wild, weird win over Miami in Week Zero, the Florida Gators were certainly hoping for a much more straightforward affair in their home opener.
In a 45-0 romp over Tennessee-Martin, the Gators got exactly that.
But what they might have lost in the win could matter more in the long run.
Florida dominated on the field and on the scoreboard even after a slow start that featured Kyle Pitts tripping on a likely first-down catch to condemn the Gators’ first drive to just a field goal and prolonged Benny Hill routines by the Skyhawks on offense.
Feleipe Franks completed a career-high 25 of his 27 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns — both on rainbow deep balls thrown with excellent touch — and ran effectively for 37 yards. Florida’s running game bounced back from its own slow start to eventually churn up 231 yards on 38 carries. And the Gators’ defense was ferocious again, harassing Skyhawks QBs John Bachus III and Joe Hudson and holding the Skyhawks to under 200 yards of total offense in Florida’s first shutout victory since a 32-0 triumph over North Texas in 2016.
But the worst part of the night for the Gators was the identity of the two players who could not finish it on the field. All-around offensive weapon Kadarius Toney left the game after apparently sustaining an arm injury on a tackle late in the first quarter, and All-American candidate Chris Henderson went down with an apparent leg injury after racing back to cover a deep ball in the second quarter. Neither player would return, with Henderson reappearing on the sideline in the second half with a boot on his left foot and crutches under his arm, and their status going forward will be as crucial to the Gators as any development from this game.
Florida did see promising things from players who could step into the Toney and Henderson roles, though, with redshirt freshman Jacob Copeland looking dangerous and hauling in his first touchdown pass and a trio of freshman corners — Jaydon Hill, Chester Kimbrough, and Kaiir Elam — all making their mark with sound tackling, with Elam also capturing Florida’s first interception of the season.
They were not the only somewhat surprising stars of the night — one on which Iverson Clement and Rick Wells both had explosive plays on offense, and walk-on Nick Oelrich saw some snaps at safety. That speaks well to Florida’s depth.
But as the Gators transition to SEC play, possibly doing so without either player wearing No. 1 this season could be a significant challenge.