12:30 PM ET, August 30, 2008
BEN HILL GRIFFIN STADIUM, GAINESVILLE, FL
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow had one big play against Hawaii. That was enough. His teammates had the rest, a welcome change for No. 5 Florida and an early indication of just how potent the Gators could be this season.
Florida scored on offense, defense and special teams -- getting big plays from six different players -- and routed Hawaii 56-10 in the season opener for both teams Saturday.
Even without injured speedster Percy Harvin (heel) and linebacker Brandon Spikes (toe), the Gators dominated and handed Greg McMackin a lopsided loss in his debut as Hawaii's head coach.
• Tim Tebow didn't have a rushing touchdown for the first time since 2006, but the Gators got a rushing touchdown from four different players in the win.
• Florida added two defensive touchdowns, both via interceptions. They had one interception returned for a touchdown last season and only two defensive touchdowns last season.
• In its last 2 games against SEC opponents, Hawaii has lost by a combined score of 97-20.
-- ESPN Research
"Big plays take the wind out of your sails," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "Can you expect that from us? I don't know. There's some guys that when they touch the ball and if you make a mistake, they can score on you. Fun to watch."
Not so much fun for opponents, though.
After getting shut out in the first quarter, the Gators exploded with 56 points in a span of 26 1/2 minutes. And big plays were the key.
Major Wright returned an interception 32 yards for a touchdown. Brandon James returned a punt 74 yards for a score. Chris Rainey got loose for a 33-yard TD run. Jeff Demps followed with an even more impressive 62-yarder. Tebow hooked up with Louis Murphy for a 48-yard score. And Ahmad Black returned an interception 80 yards for a touchdown.
Just like that, the Gators erased all those lingering memories of that 41-35 loss to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl and looked every bit ready to end a six-game losing streak against rival Miami next week.
And here's the most encouraging part for Florida: Tebow was just a supporting player. The bulky quarterback carried the offense much of last season, throwing 32 touchdowns passes, running for 23 more and becoming the first sophomore to win the Heisman.
He finished Saturday's game with the fewest completions, attempts and yards of his career. He was 9-of-14 passing for 137 yards and a touchdown. He ran nine times for 37 yards, most of them scrambles behind spotty protection. He also snapped his NCAA-record streak of having at least one touchdown rushing and one passing at 14 games.
"Aw, shucks," Tebow said. "I'm not too worried about that right now."
When the Gators got close to the goal line in the third quarter, Meyer even pulled Tebow in favor of backup Cam Newton -- a possible indication of how he plans to minimize potential pounding on his star.
"I'm hoping," Meyer said. "But it's going to be hard not to have [Tebow] carry the ball at certain times in the game. It's all to take the wear and tear off of Tim and not to lean on him too much. ... But we all know at the end of the day, No. 15 will carry the mail for us in critical situations."
Tebow didn't have to do much against Hawaii, which played a two-deep defense designed to double receivers and force the Gators to run.
That was fine with Meyer, who spent the last three weeks raving about his running backs.
Demps ran for 76 yards. Rainey added 58 yards on the ground. Starter Kestahn Moore finished with 33 yards on seven carries.
"It feels good," Demps said. "We have a little thing coach says. 'In practice, you put the money in the bank. In games, you get to take it out.' Today was payday for us. I knew we were going to come out do some big stuff. I just got paid today."
Demps' run was probably the best of the day. The freshman sliced through the line, cut left, broke a leg tackle and then found himself alone in the open field. Steve Stepter had one final chance at him. But facing the guy who owns the fastest 100-meter time of any high school athlete, Stepter really had no chance.
Demps raced by him and trotted into the end zone to make it 35-0 early in the third quarter.
"We've got a lot of weapons," Tebow said. "A key for us today was getting out there and using all those weapons."
Hawaii clearly missed its biggest weapon from last season: Heisman finalist Colt Brennan.
Greg Alexander got the start, filling in for Brent Rausch, who missed several recent practices because of a sore right throwing arm. Alexander threw two early interceptions that Florida turned into touchdowns and fumbled twice.
He got benched in the third quarter, but Rausch didn't last very long. He threw an interception and then gave way to Inoke Funaki.
Funaki led Hawaii to both of its scores -- Dan Kelly kicked a 31-yard field goal with 9:38 to play and Funaki found Greg Salas for a 13-yard score with 1:37 left -- but he also threw an interception that was the sixth turnover of the game for the Warriors.
The end result looked very much like Hawaii's last game, a 41-10 drubbing against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
"This won't define us," Salas said. "We're better than that. We're going to come back stronger."
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... Chris Rainey's 33-yard TD run with 3:00 left in the first quarter gave the Gators a 28-0 lead.
Gameball goes to... Brandon James, who scored one TD on a 1-yard run and another on a 74-yard punt return.
Stat of the game... 97-20: In its last 2 games against SEC opponents, Hawaii has lost by a combined score of 77 points.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||2-11||5-10|
|4th Down Conversions||0-1||1-1|
|TD||11:39||Brandon James 1 Yd Run (Jonathan Phillips Kick) |
Drive: 10 plays, 80 yds, 5:09
|TD||10:47||Major Wright 32 Yd Interception Return (Jonathan Phillips Kick)||0||14|
|TD||05:35||Brandon James 74 Yd Punt Return (Jonathan Phillips Kick)||0||21|
|TD||03:00||Chris Rainey 33 Yd Run (Jonathan Phillips Kick) |
Drive: 2 plays, 48 yds, :22
|TD||12:16||Jeffrey Demps 62 Yd Run (Jonathan Phillips Kick) |
Drive: 8 plays, 80 yds, 2:44
|TD||09:42||Louis Murphy 48 Yd Pass From Tim Tebow (Jonathan Phillips Kick) |
Drive: 2 plays, 58 yds, :38
|TD||02:52||Cameron Newton 1 Yd Run (Jonathan Phillips Kick) |
Drive: 12 plays, 70 yds, 5:20
|TD||00:40||Ahmad Black 80 Yd Interception Return (Jonathan Phillips Kick)||0||56|
|FG||09:38||Daniel Kelly 30 Yd |
Drive: 10 plays, 55 yds, 5:42
|TD||01:37||Greg Salas 13 Yd Pass From Inoke Funaki (Daniel Kelly Kick) |
Drive: 6 plays, 80 yds, 2:47