It was a fun night at the Swamp, as the Gators cruised to an easy 53-6 blowout of CSU. The Gators came out fast and ran to a big early lead, which allowed the coaching staff to empty the bench throughout the second half and get a lot of young players some experience.
Surprisingly, it was the passing game that set the tone early and throughout the first half. Feleipe Franks threw 5 TDs to 4 different WRs, and spread the ball around very well. He looked a little tentative early, but once he relaxed he threw more accurately than in any previous appearance. Newcomers Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes accounted for 3 TDs and look like the 2 best WRs on the roster, providing a huge boost in talent and big-play capability. All was not fun and games for the offense, however, as it took a while for the running game to get untracked. The O-Line looked like there was more thinking than simply playing, and it was disappointing to see them struggle to dominate the LOS until the CSU D-Line started to tire in the 2nd quarter. Jordan Scarlett’s return at RB was a bust, as he looked very tentative and did not hit the holes hard. He was more than picked up by the depth at RB, as Malik Davis, Lamical Perine, and Dameon Pierce all broke off big runs to finally provide balance to the attack.
The Gator defense dominated all evening as they should have, controlling the LOS and making life miserable for the Buccaneer option attack with quick penetration from the D-Line. Jachai Polite showed why he earned a starting role, and was unblockable. I was impressed with the play of the some of the young LBs – Rayshad Jackson took himself off the side of milk cartons all over the state for at least 1 week, while Ventrell Miller showed some of the promise he came with out of high school. The secondary was not challenged all night, but did play the run well and did not get lulled to sleep to then allow a long completion.
Florida’s special teams showed a pulse as well. Freshman Evan McPherson made all of his FG attempts, and the Gators blocked both a FG and an extra point, providing some added excitement.
The real season starts this week with the SEC opener against Kentucky. The streak now stands at 31 over the Wildcats, and after their gut-wrenching loss last year in Lexington, does UK really believe they can beat the Gators, especially on the road? Once again, they are talking a big game, bringing their most experienced team and best defense under Mike Stoops to Gainesville.
Kentucky’s offense struggled against Central Michigan, as new starting QB Terry Wilson looked lost in his first start, while backup Gunnar Hoak provided the only passing TD. The Wildcats will rely heavily on their running game, led by Benny Snell. Wilson will likely start, as he brings a running dynamic that they will need to try and sustain drives and wear down the Florida defense. They will try to shorten the game and make it into an ugly affair, hoping that Franks will panic if behind early or feel the pressure if the game is close deep into the second half. The Gator defense welcomes back Cece Jefferson and David Reese from suspension, and those two will help to bolster the run defense. The front seven will be under the gun to stuff the Kentucky running game and force them to throw, which will be a decided mismatch in favor of Florida.
The outcome of this game simply comes down to how well Florida’s O-Line plays. The run blocking has to make a huge improvement from the lackluster play of last week, because the Gators have a stable of RBs that can control the entire game. If they can give Franks sufficient time to keep the offense balanced with the passing game and allow the Gators to sprint out to an early lead, I really don’t see a path to victory for the Wildcats unless the Gators commit a rash of turnovers.
Florida will have to show marked improvement on offense from game 1 to game 2, and I believe this coaching staff is light-years ahead of the previous one in preparing the players. The Gators have the advantage in the number of playmakers on both sides of the ball, and something tells me the special teams will make a significant play as well. Finally, the excitement and support of the home crowd should provide the energy to help run the streak to 32 straight.
Prediction: Florida 30 Kentucky 20