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November 19, 2011

Passing attack comes alive in win



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After priding themselves in being a run-first offense all season, the Gators finally made things click through the air.

In Saturday's 54-32 win against FCS opponent Furman, Florida amassed 329 yards passing - all on the arm of redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley.

"That's what we've needed," coach Will Muschamp said. "We've needed to be able to hit some chunk plays to be able to get some momentum."

After falling behind early to Furman, the Gators managed to regain some of that momentum thanks to Brantley, who completed 16 of 28 passes for a career-high 329 yards and four touchdowns against the Paladins. The 300-yard performance was the first of Brantley's career and just the second at Florida since a 31-30 loss to Ole Miss on 2008, with Tim Tebow's 482-yard outing in the Sugar Bowl as the other occasion.

Compared to most games this season, when Florida relied heavily on swing passes and underneath routes, the Gators took advantage of match-ups on the outside to stretch the field vertically.

Most noticeably, Brantley looked deep to wide receiver Andre Debose on several plays - and more often than not, Debose found himself open behind Furman's secondary. The redshirt sophomore hauled in three catches for a career-high 151 yards and two scores.

The first touchdown came on an 80-yard bomb down the left sideline after Florida took over at its own 20-yard line. The catch marked the longest of Debose's career and cut Furman's early 15-point lead down to two, providing a momentum shift for the Gators.

"As long as they give me the right coverage and you throw a decent ball to give him a chance, you know he's coming up with it more times than not," Brantley said.

While Debose had two other games this season in which he caught a deep ball for a touchdown, the receiver has been knocked for his inability to be consistent, and Muschamp said he has struggled with "mental intensity" and making it an everyday occurrence.

That wasn't the case Saturday, though, as Brantley connected with Debose on two more deep passes, including a 64-yarder toward the end of the third quarter to give Florida an insurmountable 37-25 lead.

"I was very surprised the way they played me the second time," Debose said. "Usually teams put a safety on top to try to prevent the deep ball from us, and they really didn't play us that way and we took advantage of it."

Aside from Debose's career day, two other receivers, Deonte Thompson and Quinton Dunbar, took advantage of Furman's suspect secondary. Thompson had two catches for 45 yards, including a 41-yard grab on the right sideline that help set up Florida's first touchdown: a 14-yard strike to tight end Jordan Reed, who later left the game with an ankle injury.

Dunbar, meanwhile, had his most productive game of the season after coming into the year with a lot of hype and high expectations about his ability to be the deep threat the Gators have lacked in recent years.

The redshirt freshman caught two passes for 54 yards and a score - the first of his career. The touchdown came on a 29-yard pass from Brantley on a go route to the back of the end zone. It gave Florida its first lead of the game just before halftime - one it would not relinquish.

"When they come, you have to make the best out of the opportunity," Dunbar said of the receivers' performances. "We threw a lot today, so we made the opportunity."

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