GAINESVILLE — Three weeks before the season began, Florida senior receiver/running back Chris Rainey said he felt a sense of urgency he'd never experienced. After three years of an up-and-down career, including last season's five-game suspension, Rainey said he was still in search of redemption and felt like he has a lot to prove.
He set out to prove himself in a big way Saturday night.
Rainey became only the third player in the nation since 1996 to have a rushing, receiving and a special teams touchdown in one game, helping the Gators to a 41-3 victory over Florida Atlantic in front of 88,708 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in the head coaching debut of Will Muschamp.
Rainey scored on a 14-yard pass from quarterback John Brantley with 2:41 remaining in the first quarter, a 14-yard run with 8:34 left in the second quarter and on a 22-yard return after Solomon Patton blocked FAU punter Mickey Groody's kick in the third quarter.
"I thank God all the time that I'm still here," Rainey said. "I stayed here one more year, and that's the best thing that ever happened to me. It's a pro offense, I'm made for it."
When Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis talked about Rainey and teammate Jeff Demps earlier in the week, he said he'd never had a tandem with the speed these two possess, and he planned to take full advantage.
Rainey and Demps combined for 184 yards on 23 carries, nine receptions for 88 yards and four touchdowns, part of 468 total yards for the Gators.
Demps scored on a 35-yard run in the second quarter and a 20-yard run in the fourth, and had his fifth career 100-plus-yard game (105).
"That's exactly what we wanted to do, we wanted to come out hard, really physical and try to set the tone of the game," Demps said. "And I think we did a good job of that, coming out running this fast-paced offense."
The Gators (1-0) didn't need to get too fancy against an undermanned FAU (0-1) team, but UF did show enough to give fans hope.
Florida led 24-3 at halftime, aided by 264 yards of total offense, including 160 rushing.
Brantley, who was much maligned last season, was steady in his pro-style debut, going 21-for-30 for 229 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, one coming in the end zone with 2:50 left in the third quarter as UF was driving for another score.
FAU's lone score came after an interception thrown by UF freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel, who entered with 6:04 remaining before the half.
The Gators defense, which entered the week still in search of starters for some key positions, held FAU to 137 total yards, just 30 rushing.
What it all ultimately means when the Gators face tougher opponents remains to be seen. Even Muschamp conceded that.
"I think we need to be realistic here," the first-year head coach said. "We'll face better opponents through the season. But for a first ball game, we need to make some improvements, and if we need to make some adjustments from a personnel standpoint after we watch the film we'll certainly do that. And as we roll through this season we're going to get to know our team a lot better. We didn't face as much adversity as maybe we would have hoped for in the game as far as being in some situations where our backs were against the wall. But I'm very pleased with the attitude and the effort of our players."