FLORIDA 65, S.J. STATE 3: The Spartans provide little help in determining the Gators' future.
By ANTONYA ENGLISH
Published August 31, 2003
Chris Leak did not start at quarterback but he rotated with Ingle Martin and went 10-for-14 for 111 yards and a TD. [Times photo: James Borchuck]
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GAINESVILLE - It most likely wasn't the best barometer of how good Florida is, but Saturday, San Jose State was the only gauge it had to measure itself by.
The result was impressive, although it might be deceiving.
Against an overmatched San Jose State team, Florida trotted out multiple first-time starters and three new quarterbacks then christened its newly expanded stadium with a 65-3 victory against the Spartans in front of a state-record crowd of 90,011 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
It was one of those feel-good games any team with 43 new players would relish to start the season, but Florida coach Ron Zook was the first to put it into context after it was over.
"We have a long, long way to go," Zook said. "Everybody in that locker room understands that and realizes that. But I think it was a good start."
And at least for now, it answered the long-anticipated question of who will be Florida's starting quarterback.
Redshirt sophomore Ingle Martin started and will do so next week against Miami. But Zook rotated Martin and touted freshman Chris Leak during the first three quarters.
Martin was 14-of-23 for 196 yards and one touchdown, a 21-yarder to Kelvin Kight with 6:34 left in the first half that made it 20-3. Leak was 10-of-14 for 111 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown to Kight late in the third.
"There's no question Ingle played a great game," Zook said. "He came in, and he doesn't get too excited. He just does what he has to do. He made some nice checks and ran the offense the way we wanted him to run it.
"I thought Chris Leak came in and really did a nice job. In warmups, I could tell he was a little bit nervous. But he really settled down and did a nice job as well."
Martin was more critical.
"I wasn't very pleased with it," he said. "As you all saw, I had a lot of guys open, and I think if I would have hit half of them, we would have had at least one more touchdown."
Redshirt freshman Gavin Dickey also got his turn to run the offense, taking over on the first series of the fourth quarter with the Gators leading 44-3.
Dickey's first drive ended with an interception by linebacker Michael Smith with 12:20 left. But he recovered with a 29-yard touchdown to Chad Jackson with 3:46 left.
"(All) are great quarterbacks, so it doesn't really matter who's playing," said Kight, who had a game-high six receptions for 75 yards. "The quarterbacks threw the ball well, and we ran good routes. And that's what you've got to do to win."
The Gators did everything necessary to win, gaining 357 passing yards and 167 rushing yards. Florida's only critical mistake came on its revamped special teams. Kendrick Starling returned the opening kickoff 57 yards to Florida's 38, setting up a 46-yard field goal by Jeff Carr.
But special teams also helped Florida overcome a slow start, beginning with redshirt freshman Jermaine McCollum's blocked punt during the second quarter that led to a touchdown.
Even Florida's mistakes turned out well. With just less than nine minutes left, running back DeShawn Wynn carried 10 yards then fumbled into the waiting arms of receiver Reggie Lewis, who ran 21 yards untouched into the end zone to make it 51-3.
Florida's defense, expected to be among its weak links with just two starters with significant experience, made San Jose State look far worse than its season-opening 29-0 victory against Grambling State.
Whether the Gators are better than expected or San Jose State was worse than anticipated is up for debate. But the Spartans managed just 48 yards of offense on 32 plays during the first half, and quarterback Scott Rislov (13-of-27 for 57 yards) was harassed throughout. San Jose State had 87 rushing yards on 27 attempts and 98 passing yards.
Senior safety Guss Scott had a career night. He returned an interception 38 yards for a touchdown and recovered a fumble (off McCollum's block) that set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Ran Carthon with 6:53 left in the third quarter, one of two for Carthon.
Safety Tre Orr capped the night with a 73-yard interception return with 44 seconds left.
"We didn't play sloppy," Zook said. "At times, we did. But for the most part, we didn't play sloppy.
"I think the fact that we had (about) 45 guys that hadn't played, we played as a team. The older guys were helping the younger guys."