12:00 PM ET, October 16, 2004
BEN HILL GRIFFIN STADIUM, GAINESVILLE, FL
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida was supposed to be off this week, but the season opener against Middle Tennessee was postponed six weeks because of Hurricane Frances.
It may have worked out better for the No. 22 Gators.
Chris Leak threw three touchdown passes, DeShawn Wynn scored three times and Florida rebounded from a home loss to LSU with a 52-16 victory against Middle Tennessee on Saturday.
"The best way to get over a loss is to go out there and play well and win," linebacker Travis Harris said. "And we did that."
Leak, who was 15-of-33 for a season-low 142 yards in a 24-21 loss to the Tigers, completed 17 of 22 passes for 316 yards against the Blue Raiders (2-4).
He was rarely pressured, giving him plenty of time to find open receivers. He had TD passes to O.J. Small, Andre Caldwell and Chad Jackson before sitting out the fourth quarter.
"It was better to go out there and play than have the week off because we are hungry right now," Caldwell said.
Wynn ran for 81 yards, and Ciatrick Fason added 48 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The Gators (4-2) gave up more yards (301) than they wanted. But for the most part, they kept Middle Tennessee out of the end zone.
Clint Marks, who completed 30 of 34 passes for 447 yards with four touchdowns last week against Arkansas State, was hurried all afternoon, was sacked six times and threw two interceptions.
"We just got beat by a better football team," said Middle Tennessee coach Andy McCollum, whose program fell to 0-8 against ranked opponents since joining Division I-A in 1999. "It's real simple. Any time you play in a place like this against an SEC team, you better not make any mistakes. You will not have a chance."
The game went as expected: a mismatch from the opening kickoff.
It was considered a sellout even though there were thousands of empty seats. The reasons? A rescheduled game against a weak opponent, it was the fourth consecutive home game, it was an early start and the Gators already have two losses.
Nonetheless, Florida was ready from the outset.
The Gators scored on their first four possessions and led 24-3. They also scored touchdowns on all three drives in the third quarter, opening up a 36-point lead.
Jackson caught six passes for 103 yards and had a 33-yard touchdown on Florida's first play of the second half. Caldwell had four receptions for 91 yards, including a 62-yard score early in the second quarter. Small finished with four catches for 65 yards.
"Offensively, we were clicking on all cylinders for the most part," coach Ron Zook said.
The Gators wanted to play well -- and needed to. Not only have they lost two early games for the third consecutive season under Zook, they also have all but been eliminated from the SEC Eastern Division race.
Making matters worse after last week's loss, news leaked that Zook angrily confronted members of a fraternity last month after a fight between them and three of his players.
The distraction added to an already tense week.
"I'm glad it's over with and we can get on down the road," Zook said.
The Gators return to SEC play at Mississippi State next week and then have their annual showdown with Georgia in Jacksonville.
"We wanted to get some momentum going," Caldwell said. "We wanted to show we're still a dominant offense. We want to go out and bully everyone we play, and that's what we did today."