GAINESVILLE — In the most basic sense, Florida's 48-10 victory over Appalachian State at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday normally would rank fairly low in the grand scheme of things.
But this season, in the true sense of how much the Gators needed the win — for their seniors, their disgruntled fan base and their confidence heading into this week's game against rival Florida State — the victory was immeasurable.
The Gators racked up a season-high 547 yards of total offense, gave a lot of their future starters significant playing time and, most of all, ended a three-game losing streak at Florida Field — the most games Saturday's senior class had lost at home in their careers.
"I think everybody associated with our program needed that one," coach Urban Meyer said. "That team beat Michigan a couple of years ago. … We picked the No. 1 team in I-AA (late in the season). You see their style of play, blocked punts and the effort, and obviously the way they are coached, I was horrified about this game."
Florida (7-4) scored 21 points in the first quarter — the most in the opening quarter all season.
Sophomore quarterback Jordan Reed scored three touchdowns: a 1-yard run with 25 seconds remaining in the first quarter, a 1-yard run with 12:09 remaining in the third quarter, and a 3-yard run with 2:38 remaining in the third quarter.
Reed accounted for a touchdown throwing — a 5-yard pass to fellow quarterback John Brantley with 5:02 remaining in the second quarter to give the Gators a 28-0 lead.
"I saw the sign (for the play)," Brantley said. "I didn't want to act too excited. I saw that corner bite. … I was just like, 'Don't drop it, don't drop it.' I caught it in my body and made sure I was inbounds, too."
The three-quarterback system that collapsed and failed against South Carolina last week was once again functional. Brantley was 16-of-22 for 222 yards, Reed was 2-of-3 for 14 yards and rushed 11 times for 71 yards, and Trey Burton didn't throw a pass but rushed eight times for 37 yards.
The Gators also got significant playing time, mostly in the second half, for many of their young players.
"The thing we can (measure) is we can see the development of some young players throughout this team," Meyer said after the team's first win at home since Sept. 25 against Kentucky.
The Gators now look ahead to what could be the saving grace of a dismal season: the game at Florida State this weekend. There will be no championship for the Gators, so Saturday's game takes on that feel. Florida will be looking for its seventh consecutive victory over the Seminoles. That could help ease UF's pain of not making it to the SEC title game in a year that has been tumultuous and disappointing.
"This is another must-win for us," senior center Mike Pouncey said. "If we win this one, there will be a lot of proud guys on this team. … It's really important. I've never lost to them, it's a rivalry game, and you always want to play good in rivalry games because those are the ones you'll always remember.
"We're going to bust our behinds this week in practice. Obviously it would turn a disappointing season into one of those where it paid off in the end."
Florida's underclassmen said all week that they desperately wanted a win Saturday to send the seniors out on the right note. And the victory helps set the tone for next season, when the Gators hope to get their homefield swagger back.
Eventually. But not just yet.
"It's not back," Meyer said emphatically. "We're going to work all offseason to get it back. Beating Appalachian State at home is not regaining homefield advantage. We lost more games at home than we did the entire three seasons these seniors were here. That's unacceptable."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, Follow her coverage at gators.tampabay.com.