Fall has officially arrived in Gainesville. With the sweltering heat aside, every fan in the Gator nation recognized the changing of seasons in the Swamp on Saturday. Perhaps it wasn’t the change Gator fans would have liked to see, but there were some positive events that came out of Saturday’s game against Bowling Green.
I would have loved for the Gators to show Bowling Green what SEC football is really about (much like how Bama showed the boys in Maize and Blue), but that just didn’t happen. Florida isn’t that disciplined yet as evidenced by the amount of penalties the team incurred. While the product on the field doesn’t seem to have evolved much from last year, there is still reason to be optimistic after the first game.
This year, Florida has big-time questions at quarterback. As of Monday it appears as if those questions have been answered. In a press conference, head coach Will Muschamp named sophomore QB Jeff Driskel, who played all of the second half, the starting QB heading into College Station next weekend to welcome A&M into the SEC. Driskel made some poor throws (missing a wide-open Quentin Dunbar), but still showed improvement from a year ago. He finished 10-of-16 for 114 yards and a touchdown, thanks in large part to WR Frankie Hammond taking a ten yard out, breaking a tackle and sprinting into the end zone. Driskel will need to continue improving next Saturday when Texas A&M makes its SEC debut against Florida.
Texas A&M is known for having solid defense, and although the Aggies will be transitioning into a Houston-style passing attack under new head coach Kevin Sumlin, the team still has talent on the defensive side of the ball.
It might not matter whether Driskel improves by next week if the offensive line continues to struggle protecting the quarterback. The offensive line can help Driskel get into a rhythm by keeping the Aggies’ defense out of the sophomore quarterback’s face. Driskel, though, could stand to do a better job of not giving up on the protection.
[Scenes from Saturday >> Florida Gators vs Bowling Green Falcons]
Florida ran the ball rather efficiently when Driskel and sophomore Jacoby Brissett handed off to senior Mike Gillislee, who had a career high of 148 yards and two touchdowns, but the Gators seemed unable to run the ball when it mattered most. Third and short—an obvious ground-and-pound situation for Florida—was not friendly to the Gators on Saturday.
The Gators need a balanced attack, and running the ball eight out of 11 plays on a drive may have netted a touchdown against Bowling Green, but it won’t achieve the same result against the SEC’s elite defensive squads. Florida fans should expect to see the Gators offense utilize play action throughout the year to keep defenses on their toes.
Florida did show willingness to run the ball between the tackles, something it failed to do last year with speedy running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.
BGSU ran a timing-based shotgun spread offense that made its living on underneath throws and play action. The Gators would have liked to see more harassment of opposing wide receivers from CB’s Jaylen Watkins and Louchiez Purifoy. The two seemed content to play ten yards off the line when they were in the game on Saturday, which is no doubt a coaching move designed to eliminate the possibility of young, unproven corners getting beat deep down the field by experienced Bowling Green quarterback Matt Schilz. As a result, I would not be surprised to see Purifoy and Watkins playing tough press coverage like Marcus Roberson, their talented counterpart, by the end of this season.
The defense played well, but if not for a case of the shanks out of BGSU kicker, Stephen Stein, the score might have been 21-20 heading into the final minutes of the game. Credit BGSU’s offensive game plan to utilize quick throws, play action and draw plays for Florida’s lack of pressure on the opposing quarterback. Dominique Easley, and the combo of Lerentee Mccray and Dante Fowler on the other side, were able to force QB Matt Schilz to step up into the pocket, but defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter could not capitalize and produce sacks.
Florida’s special teams were anything but special. Andre Debose had a couple of exciting returns, but there were too many missed blocks and mistakes (such as Gillislee misjudging the first kickoff he tried to return). Expect Debose to break for a couple of touchdowns this year; he is, after all, Florida’s all-time leader in kick-return touchdowns with four.
Playing BGSU was not quite the cupcake many Gator fans had hoped it would be, but Florida didn’t play its best game (fingers crossed). Florida needs to be ready next week for several reasons: A&M will be electric with the energy of not only playing its first SEC game, but also with the postponement of the first game of its season due to Hurricane Isaac; it will be their season opener, and then there’s the vaunted 12th man at Kyle Field. I think Gator fans will be treated to a fired-up Florida football team that comes ready to play.
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