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Sunday, September 4, 2011
Gators' fast start pleases Will Muschamp

By Edward Aschoff

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The scene outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium two hours before Florida’s season-opener with Florida Atlantic wasn’t exactly electrifying.

Sure, you could tell it was game day, but there wasn’t much buzz. You weren’t consumed by the anticipation of the start of the season.

It was even more evident when only 88,708 showed up inside the stadium, ending Florida’s streak of 137 consecutive sellouts.

Florida's Will Muschamp
Will Muschamp got a win in his debut as Florida's head coach.
But with a team like Florida that has so many question marks, it’s expected for fans to be a little hesitant and skeptical about a new year and a new coach.

Will Muschamp made his head-coaching debut inside The Swamp and his team generated all the buzz he needed in a 41-3 win over the Owls.

Muschamp, who grew up going to Gator games with his family, was the man in charge of his childhood team and while he was asked about his feelings concerning his move from coordinator to head coach, Muschamp made it all about his team.

“It’s about players to me,” Muschamp said. “It’s really about seeing those guys fulfilling a lot of their work and see their work come to a conclusion as far as going through the game time and playing the game.”

What also thrilled Muschamp about Saturday was the fast start his team had. Unlike last season, the Gators marched down the field and scored on their opening drive. It wasn’t a touchdown, but it was points. In fact, it was a pretty impressive three points as Caleb Sturgis connected on a 51-yard field goal. This is the same Caleb Sturgis who missed most of last season with a back injury.

The game almost got off to an even faster start when Jeff Demps returned the opening kick for a touchdown. However, the play was called back because of holding.

And the penalty didn’t slow the Gators. After their initial scoring drive, quarterback John Brantley, who had an awful 2010 season, stood tall in the pocket, and led Florida on a 12-play, 67-yard drive that ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Chris Rainey.

A 35-yard run by Jeff Demps and a 14-yarder by Rainey on consecutive possessions in the second quarter and the Gators had 24 points at halftime. Florida’s offense also had 264 total yards, 52 more than the Gators had total in last year’s opener.

“We were so ready for this game so we could erase the memories from last year, but at the same time, we keep it fresh in our heads because it’s motivation to get better,” junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said.

This was a coming out party for Muschamp and reinvention for his team. Gators fans had yet to truly embrace Muschamp, but you could see them warm to him when he went off on a ref in the third quarter. It was the “Coach Boom” moment fans had waited for it and it signaled Muschamp’s true arrival.

Muschamp praised his team for its attitude and work ethic. He lauded its improvement from spring, and while there were still plenty of hiccups and procedural issues all around, he was happy with the 1-0 start.

And his players felt relived by the one-sided affair.

“It was exciting and it was very important because we had a lot to prove and I think we showed a lot of people around the world what we had to prove,” said linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who was a part of a defense that surrendered just 137 offensive yards, totaled two sacks and stopped 11-of-13 third down.

The Gators are rejoicing in their opening win, but they understand there is work to be done. The buzz is starting to generate, but this team still has a long way to go.

“We need to be realistic here. We’ll face better opponents through the season,” Muschamp said. “But for the first ball game, we need to make some improvements, we need to make some adjustments from a personnel standpoint.

“As we roll through this season, we’re going to get to know our team a lot better.

“We’ve got to continue to improve and get better because we’ve got a long way to go. We have a long season ahead of us.”