Florida handles Huskies, 41-10

By David Lance

Most football teams accept 31-point victories warmly.

But the 6-1 Florida Gators are not like most squads. They are No. 6 in the country, and when they beat NIU (1-6) 41-10 Saturday afternoon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in front of 83,708 people, their head coach, Steve Spurrier, was unimpressed.

“We definitely had those guys outmanned with size and speed,” he said. “But as far as effort, I think Northern Illinois played with more than we did, and that’s embarrassing to us coaches on the Florida side.

“This ought to be a morale boost for (NIU). They teed it up, belly-to-belly with us.”

NIU head coach Charlie Sadler was pleased with his team’s output.

“I think our team played probably as hard as we did all year, from the first play to the end of the game,” he said. “Our guys have nothing to be ashamed of, as far as the final outcome of the game.”

In the game’s first minutes, the Gators’ offense looked liked it would never be stopped. On their first possession, the Gators marched 80 yards before running back Errict Rhett scored on a 1-yard run.

On its next possession, Florida went 73 yards before running back Willie McClendon crossed the goal line on a 2-yard run.

But the Huskies’ defense tightened, and the Gators didn’t score again until 2:52 of the second quarter.

“We didn’t really adjust … we just started making the plays,” NIU defensive end Scott Van Bellinger said. “We didn’t make the mental mistakes that were killing us to start off with.

“We (the defense) played great at times and we played poor at times.”

Down 14-0 with just over seven minutes left in the second quarter, NIU drove into Florida territory. But on second-and-10 from the Gators’ 27-yard line, quarterback Stacey McKinney, who was directly over center, fumbled the snap and Florida linebacker Tim Paulk recovered.

“The crowd got kind of loud,” NIU quarterback Stacey McKinney said. “I didn’t call the snap count … and I wasn’t ready.

“(Offensively), we got better, compared to the last couple of games we played. And we’re going to continue to get better.”

Two offensive series later, Florida quarterback Shane Matthews threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Harrison Houston.

With 32 seconds left in the second quarter, Matthews threw a 32-yard TD pass to wide receiver Willie Jackson, putting the Gators up 28-0 at halftime.

For the game, Florida netted 604 yards.

“They’ve got a great offense,” Sadler said. “You look at what they did against Tennessee last week, and you’re talking about one of the top offenses in the country. To slow them down is really tough to do consistently.”

After a scoreless third quarter, NIU kicker Willy Roy Jr. hit a 42-yard field goal. NIU made the score 35-10 after quarterback Rob Rugai’s 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Raymond Roberts.

For the game, NIU had 243 net yards, 155 of them rushing.

“We didn’t come out fired up,” Gators’ defensive back Ephesians Bartley said. “You’ve got to give (NIU) credit. They played hard.”