GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida pulled away in the fourth quarter to defeat UMass 24-7 in Saturday’s season opener.
Quarterback Luke Del Rio threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns on 29 of 44 passing, and UF’s defense held the Minutemen to 187 offensive yards.
Turning point. Brandon Powell’s touchdown with 8:04 to play. He evaded a tackler on a screen pass and broke free along the sideline on his way to the end zone. His 26-yard score gave the Gators a 21-7 lead and put the game out of reach for UMass.
Questions answered: Del Rio had an up-and-down performance in his first career start. He was accurate for the most part and had two key runs that set up his touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway. But the UMass pass rush disrupted the offensive rhythm and he had several balls either dropped or behind his receivers. All five running backs played as expected, but Jordan Scarlett and Mark Thompson were featured the most. Scarlett was the best of the bunch and ran hard all night, though he only had one carry longer than 10 yards. The health of linebacker Alex Anzalone was something to watch in his first game since his season-ending shoulder injury. Anzalone looked amazing Saturday, flying all over the field and coming up with six tackles, a sack and a pass breakup.
Questions looming: Florida’s offensive line had a poor performance against a defensive front it should’ve dominated. Del Rio was under duress all night and the backs didn’t have any running room. This has to be the biggest concern from the season opener. How will this unit hold up against SEC defensive linemen? Next week will be a much tougher test with Kentucky coming to town. At times, the Gators looked elite on defense and made key stops on third downs. However, they committed some costly penalties, including a pair of 15-yarders on UMass’ touchdown drive. Those type of mistakes will doom them against better opponents, so they need to play more disciplined moving forward. Florida wide receiver Dre Massey and cornerback Duke Dawson both left the game and the extent of their injuries have yet to be determined.
Statistically speaking: UF kicker Eddy Pineiro lived up to the hype Saturday, making all three of his field goal attempts (long of 48) and another that didn’t count because of a UMass penalty. The crowd chanted “Eddy! Eddy!” several times during the game.
What it means: The No. 25 Gators were not sharp on either side of the ball and didn’t have an impressive 2016 debut. But they did get the win, which not all SEC teams could say on the opening weekend of the season. Florida found out it has a lot of room for improvement, but that’s what first games are for.
Zach Abolverdi is the Florida beat writer for SEC Country and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.