A dead giveaway to Florida's success in its 59-0 homecoming victory over Akron on Saturday was the post-game concern shown by Gators coach Steve Spurrier. Spurrier had more compassion for the downtrodden than Mother Theresa.
"(The) sad part of the game was Akron had a lot of players hurt," Spurrier said. "I was talking with Coach (Gerry) Faust and I told him I really felt sorry for his team."
Spurrier's feelings were well-placed _ the Zips lost two key players to injuries.
Quarterback Shane Matthews was 20-of-32 for 283 yards _ including touchdowns passes to Kirk Kirkpatrick, Ernie Mills and Willie McClendon _ as the 17th-ranked Gators (6-1) amassed 594 yards in total offense before the 74,558 fans at Florida Field.
The Zips (3-4-1), meanwhile, could muster but 84 yards of total offense. They converted only one of 14 third-down attempts and never made it past the Gators' 42-yard line.
"I think it was obvious we had Akron outmanned at just about every position," said Spurrier. "I think that was a good game for us in that our players had some fun. We didn't have much last week (in a 45-3 loss) at Tennessee."
Still, said Spurrier, "We certainly don't need to apologize for playing the University of Akron."
The Gators scored on five consecutive possessions in the first half and built a 31-0 halftime lead on the strength of Mathews' 35-yard touchdown to Mills and 10-yarder to Kirkpatrick.
Brandon's Kirkpatrick had a game-high five catches for 122 yards. McClendon was the game's leading rusher with 18 carries and a career-high 105 yards.
"That felt great," said McClendon, who started after being replaced at tailback last week by Errict Rhett. "I haven't felt like that in a while."
Rhett scored the Gators' third touchdown on a 2-yard run after a 15-play, 87-yard drive. Matthews lateraled to Terence Barber, who threw 53 yards to a stumbling Kirkpatrick for Florida's fourth score. Arden Czyzewski's 33-yard field goal completed the first-half scoring.
Spurrier, whose Gators next host Auburn on Nov. 3, expressed no qualms about calling a flea-flicker with a 21-0 lead.
He said he was simply looking ahead.
"We wanted to show that play because it will cut down on pursuit," Spurrier said. "Auburn will see that play on tape."
Adding injury to the insult, the Zips lost quarterback Jeff Sweitzer (shoulder separation) and starting defensive end Eric Drakes (broken hand) before the half.
"We were down to one quarterback (Mark Friday), so we had to change everything in the second half," Faust said. "If we lost him, we would have had to punt on first down.
"We decided to play younger kids in the second half so that we would not get any more starters hurt."
But the players were all that changed for Akron in the second half.
The Gators padded their lead to 45-0 in the third quarter as Matthews found McClendon with a 15-yard touchdown pass, and Rhett scored on his second 2-yard run.
"We knew we were catching them at a bad time after they lost to Tennessee," said Faust.
But if the Zips' timing was bad _ their luck was even worse.
That was in no better evidence than early in the fourth quarter, when Friday, Sweitzer's replacement, pitched to tailback Troy Campbell. The ball bounced off Campbell's hands, behind his head, and into the hands of defensive end Darren Mickell, who returned the fumble 32 yards for a touchdown.
Reserve placekicker Ryan Ruland's extra point put the Gators up 52-0. But before the scoring was over, Brian Fox had relieved Matthews thrown a 12-yard touchdown to walk-on Brady Ackerman.
The Gators opened the game with a very un-Spurrier-like grind-it-out drive that ended with McClendon fumbling at the goal line.
The drive reflected none of the balance Florida has displayed this season. The Gators rushed 13 times on the 14-play possession, including nine carries by McClendon for 41 yards.
"We wanted to come out running a little," Spurrier said. "We felt like we were maybe too spread out in the last few games."
The initial Gator drive also marked the lone fortune for Akron, which gave up three interceptions and two fumbles.
But the Zips returned the turnover five plays later. Sweitzer was intercepted by Tim Paulk after fellow Gator linebacker Ephesians Bartley pounded the Zips' quarterback from behind.
Florida accepted the gift in a very Gator-like fashion. They went to the air immediately for a one-play scoring drive as Mills slipped behind a pair of defenders and pulled in a picture-perfect, 35-yard pass from Matthews to begin the rout by the Gators.
Paulk also picked off one of Friday's passes and returned it 50 yards to set up Czyzewski's first-half field goal.
"Any time you win your confidence level goes up," Matthews said. "We executed a lot better and that should carry us into the Auburn game."