It was a promising start to the Jim McElwain era with a 61-13 manhandling of New Mexico St. There was a great turnout by the fans and some real excitement back in the Swamp. The past 2 seasons had really sucked the life out of the fan base and the players, and it was refreshing to see how excited they were and how it was reflected in the team’s play.
There were glimpses of what may be a functional offense this season, or at least indications that the offensive coaches actually have a plan on how to use the personnel they have effectively – as long as the offensive line can stay healthy and continue to develop as the season progresses. Both Treon Harris and Will Grier were efficient, limited mistakes, and spread the ball around to many receivers – including the RBs and TEs. While the stats were similar, Grier definitely looks more comfortable as a passer, and showed he has good athletic ability to make plays with his legs if necessary. The WR play was sketchy, but not a complete surprise based on reports coming out of fall camp. Unless Demarcus Robinson learns to run tougher, and some of the other WRs can shake loose of coverage, then OC Doug Nussmeier has little choice but to try and scheme plays to the TEs and RBs. The OL did pretty well for the first game, getting lined up properly and not committing a rash of penalties. However, I was disappointed in the run-blocking more than the pass protection, and this may bode ill as the schedule toughens. There is not enough experience at QB or quality at WR to have to lean on the passing game too much. I hope to see some better running lanes opened up this week, and the RB rotation of Kelvin Taylor, Jordan Scarlett, and Jordan Cronkrite looks to be ready for SEC competition.
The Gator defense did what was expected – control the running game (less a few well-executed plays), and shut down the NMSU passing game (less a few blown coverages by the backups, which should be corrected). The second half showed the depth in both the DL and secondary, as Florida simply wore down the Aggies and shut them out, with very few net yards allowed. Overall a solid performance that allowed the defensive staff to substitute liberally and get valuable snaps to the younger players while experimenting with different lineups and schemes to evaluate personnel. Veterans like Jon Bullard and Vernon Hargreaves showed their leadership by making big plays, while young players such as Taven Bryan and Cece Jefferson on the DL showed a lot of promise.
Next up for Florida is East Carolina. Florida is very familiar with the Pirates, as they defeated them in January in the bowl game. ECU’s offense was one of the best in the country last season, led by senior QB Shane Carden and senior WR Justin Hardy, who was drafted into the NFL. However, their projected new QB was injured in fall camp and is out for the season, to be replaced by a JUCO transfer with only a few weeks of practice. While this will hurt their efficiency, the coaching and scheme are still in place that could challenge the Gator defense and make this game one that won’t be decided until the second half. Fortunately the strength of Florida’s defense lies in the secondary, and they should be able to slow down the Pirates enough to allow the Gator offense to not worry about getting into a scoring contest and staying balanced. I expect to see both Harris and Grier at QB again, but hopefully one of them moves ahead of the other and can be considered the starter going forward. The running game needs to show improvement and consistency.
This is a step up in competition, and that will continue each week into October. As long as Florida doesn’t suffer a key injury at QB or in the OL, the schedule sets up well to keep the team focused each week on the task at hand, and not to look ahead. There should be another good crowd in the Swamp Saturday night, as the Gators try to continue to build momentum.
Prediction: Florida 31 East Carolina 13