That was an ugly, disappointing performance in the 2016 opener, especially by the offense. The rainy weather in the first half was no excuse for being in a 3-point game in the 4th quarter against an out-manned opponent. The O-Line did a horrific imitation of the second half of 2015, with blown assignments, shaky pass-blocking, and weak run blocking. Fred Johnson looked terrible at RT, and it appears Jawaan Taylor, despite being a true freshman, will inherit the job – at least he played a physical game and was aggressive. The interior of the line remains unimpressive as well. I was surprised at the large discrepancy in run/pass ratio, but I think Coach Mac wanted Luke Del Rio to get as many reps as needed going into the SEC opener the very next game. All the RBs played, but Jordan Scarlett made the best impression, running hard between the tackles. The WR corps wasn’t impactful, less short hitches and crosses to Brandon Powell and Antonio Callaway. The entire offense has to take a major step forward in the next game, or it could be a long season. A dispiriting effort all around, and nothing to get future recruits excited about unless they can see the immediate playing time available at many positions.
The defense was excellent, holding UMass under 200 yards in total, of which more than half came on just 3 plays. There was some surprisingly poor tackling by some of the starters, especially on the only UMass scoring drive, but hopefully that is attributed to a lack of focus given the opponent. It was good to see so many young players get snaps in this game, because they will need to improve and provide depth as the season progresses.
The Gator special teams were very solid, continually pinning UMass inside the 20. Eddy Pineiro looked comfortable going 3-3 on long FGs, while Johnny Townsend was his usual consistent self on punts. The coverage teams were very good as well, with WR Ahmad Fulwood looking surprisingly good in getting downfield and making tackles.
It’s on the the SEC season, and the opener against Kentucky at the Swamp. The Wildcats are coming off of an ugly home loss to Southern Miss, giving up 44 points and over 500 yards on defense. Their offense was impressive, though. QB Drew Barker hit long passes all evening, going over 300 yards with 4 TDs. The UK WRs, led by Garrett Johnson, are touting themselves as the best group in the league, and will provide a solid test for DBU. Stanley Williams is a good back both running and receiving, but there is no depth behind him. The Gator defense needs to be on it’s game and focused from the opening snap, as the offense still seems to be a work in progress and could struggle. It will be good to have Jalen Tabor back at CB to help slow down the Wildcat passing attack. It’s incumbent on the front 7 to control the LOS and get pressure on Barker, or it could be a long afternoon. The defense needs to be focused and ready to live up to it’s expectations right from the start, as Kentucky will attack downfield the entire game.
It will be interesting to see how Coach Mac and Doug Nussmeier decide to attack on offense. The Wildcats gave up 262 rushing yards last week, and I know The Gator staff would like to establish some balance, take some pressure off of Del Rio, and also allow the defense some rest. But unless the O-Line steps up it’s performance significantly, this could be another (unfortunately) close SEC game deep into the second half. The return from suspension of C’yontai Lewis at TE and WR Tyrie Cleveland hopefully will give Del Rio more targets and make the UK defense defend the entire field instead of crowding the box. The loss of Dre Massey to a knee injury is a huge disappointment, and really hurts the slot position, putting a lot of pressure on Powell.
It’s time to see if the Gators can bring come excitement back to the Swamp on offense and get the crowd energized, and in turn get recruits’ attention. After an off-season with so much talk about how the offense would be improved and be ready to share more of the load and help the defense, it’s time to start putting up or shutting up. The O-Line again has to prove it can play consistently at an SEC level, or this could be an embarrassing day. I think the Florida special teams need to come up big as well to keep control of the game.
Prediction: Florida 27 Kentucky 17