After losing three of their four best pass-catching options from 2012, the Florida Gators entered this season searching for playmakers who could help their offense stretch the field.
Early in 2013, it appears they have found several viable options.
The Gators’ receiving group combined to catch 10 passes for 163 yards and a touchdown to help No. 19 Florida defeat Tennessee 31-17 on Saturday in front of a crowd of 90,074 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“I’m pretty sure we were ranked the 10th wide receiver corps in the Southeastern Conference,” said senior Trey Burton, who finished with three catches for 21 yards.
“We took that to heart. We didn’t believe that. We thought we were a lot better than that, and we are trying to prove that.”
A week after Florida’s group of receivers — comprised of Burton, Solomon Patton and Quinton Dunbar — combined to accumulate 280 receiving yards and a touchdown during a 21-16 loss to Miami at Sun Life Stadium, the threesome again proved difficult to contain against the Volunteers.
“I’ve been very pleased with their play,” coach Will Muschamp said.
An added caveat Saturday was the loss of starting quarterback Jeff Driskel.
Driskel, a junior, left the game with a fractured right fibula after throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown during the first quarter. Backup Tyler Murphy, a junior who had not thrown a pass for the Gators during his career, took the rest of the snaps at quarterback.
If there was any unfamiliarity between Murphy and his receivers, it was unapparent. He completed his first pass of the game to Dunbar for 9 yards and a first down on third-and-6 during his opening possession.
One drive later, Murphy found Patton on a screen pass and let the senior receiver do the rest.
Patton, who until this season was used mostly on speed sweeps to utilize his quickness, made a Volunteers defensive back miss and raced 52 yards for a touchdown — Murphy’s first passing touchdown as a Gator.
“They made (my job) very easy,” Murphy said of Florida’s receivers. “They’ve been making plays throughout camp and practice, and that’s transferred over to the games.”
Murphy finished the game 8-of-14 passing for 134 yards and a touchdown. Patton grabbed three passes for 73 yards and a score; Dunbar had four catches for 63 yards.
“We’ve just been growing confidence,” Burton said. “Us three — me, (Patton) and Dunbar have been guys who have gotten reps in the past and caught balls in the past, so we’re just ready to step up and be the main guys now.”
Added Dunbar: “All offseason, we all worked hard to get better. I feel like we are getting better each and every week.”
The emergence of Patton as a receiving threat has been the biggest surprise for Florida. He caught one pass for 17 yards during an injury-shortened 2012 season.
A year later, he has 10 catches for 212 yards and a pair of scores through three games to spearhead the Gators’ offense.
“We always have worked hard,” Patton said. “We finally are getting those opportunities to where we’re throwing the ball a lot more. I think we’re doing really awesome.”
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