After the most painful offseason in generations, the Florida Gators will finally take the field on Saturday to pick up the pieces of a broken season. As the program looks to reassert itself atop the college football landscape, here are five things to watch for in the opener against Idaho.
Driskel’s Up-Tempo Change
A healthy Jeff Driskel is a great thing for the Florida Gators (sorry doubters). He’s 11-3 as a starter, and possesses key skills (running ability, experience, and a very strong arm) necessary to succeed.
While last season he had three interceptions in only 61 pass attempts, it’s been reported that Driskel had no interceptions during fall camp. Look for him to be sharp, but not open up the playbook. I don’t foresee him playing the entire game, but do expect two touchdowns through the air, and possibly one on the ground – enough to silence the critics for a week and ease his team into the season. A great sign of progress would be accurate decision making in the pocket, and quick execution once he commits to a play.
Debose for the record(?)
Andre Debose only needs one more kickoff return (he has four) to take possession of the SEC all-time record. After an injury-plagued career at Florida, and a rare sixth year of eligibility, he has one last chance to break this record and end his career on a high note. What better team to do that against than Idaho? The Vandals gave up an average of 46.8 points last year, and a whopping 530 yards per game. If Debose can’t run one back against this team, he might not break the record at all.
Special teams becoming special again
Last season, the Gators scored 30 points fewer than their opponents on field goals. In total, they were 12-for-21 in the kicking game – good for 116th nationally. Moreover, they scored the lowest amount of points from field goals in the conference (60). This must improve in order for the team to make some noise in the SEC East this year.
Austin Hardin is back to reclaim his placekicking duties after going 4-for-4 in the spring game, and Kyle Christy returns as the punter after averaging 43.4 yards per kick. Bottom line, I need to see some major sparks from this unit before I am fully comfortable with the team.
Offensive line stability
The O-Line allowed an eye-popping 27 sacks last year, inhibiting an already stagnant offense. And many of Florida’s problems from 2013 are directly attributable to this unit.
D.J. Humphries and Chaz Green both return from injuries, and big Trenton Brown (he is 6-8 and 365 lbs, folks – just let that simmer for a second) will shift from right tackle, where he played due to the Tyler Moore injury, back his natural position of guard. The Gators are breaking Max Garcia in at center, but after 11 botched snaps last season (including a critical miscue at South Carolina), he’s an upgrade. Driskel should be fine with the new offense, but he’s only as good as the big uglies who protect him.
There is no way the Gators lose this game – none. And no, I don’t want to hear the “Georgia Southern” chants or teases, either. A healthy first string will demolish Idaho.
The key for this team is balancing success with humility. Last season served up large heaps of humility, and the players are hungry avenge the past. Yes, a win is important, needed, and sets the tone; however it will also calibrate expectations, quell doubts, and get fans exceited for what promises to be a bounce-back season. Keeping healthy would help too, of course.