Saturday evening began a new era in Florida Gators football. New head coach Jim McElwain began his Florida coaching career with a 61-13 win over Sun Belt conference member New Mexico State. His debut could not have gone better. The offense was efficient and the defense dominated. The Aggies are definitely not the cream of the crop in college football, but this game was not about the performance against the opponent — Florida was a 37-point favorite entering the game — it was about the performance against themselves. Saturday was a night for this team and the fans to walk away from the past four years and begin cutting down the trees that made the future so unsure.
The beginning of the 2015 campaign for this Florida football team was positive and gave fans a reason to be excited about the days, weeks and even years ahead. The win over New Mexico State did not push Florida into the top-25 rankings and it doesn’t change much about the overall expectations from the national audience, but that was not the goal. The objective was to begin restoring the standard back to Florida football.
At the end of the game the conversation was about the play of the two quarterbacks. Not to be overshadowed by the quality performance of the two quarterbacks and what should make many hopeful about the future, is the vision McElwain showed off the field made its way on the field. The efficiency of the offense was due large in part to putting the players in the best position to be successful.
Treon Harris was given opportunities to show his play making ability and Will Grier was allowed to display the arm talent that many were excited about since his arrival in Gainesville. It was not just the quarterbacks, but also the involvement of many players on offense and defense that made watching the game very refreshing. Entering this season the discussion whether Florida lacked talent or were under the leadership of inept offensive minds may yet to be determined, but Saturday night a noticeable offensive scheme, pushed the needle in a particular direction.
There is still a lot to be said about this version of the Gators and how much they have improved since last fall, but there was a visible excitement that returned the swamp.
“It was great, you know, knowing that we packed a full house. I don’t remember the last time we did that.” noted Redshirt Sophomore wide receiver Alvin Bailey who recorded his first catch of his career and finished the game with two catches for 43 yards including a remarkable bobbling catch in the 3rd quarter.
Opening games can provide a lot of optimism as well as a lot of overreaction, regardless of the outcome. Last year Florida opened the season with a 65-0 shellacking of Eastern Michigan, though it was a great performance it turned out to be the beginning of the end for former head coach Will Muschamp. After the game, anyone predicting Florida to win the SEC and appear in the final four would be a ‘slight’ overreaction, but walking away with a positive impression was left in the minds of Gator nation.
It was an exciting night and they showed a lot of promise, but Florida still has areas to improve and they will be challenged by tougher competition and more adverse situations throughout the season. The offensive line had its moments; there were bad snaps and the defense had some miscues. Better teams will expose other flaws and this current staff will be challenged to correct them.
Florida fields a fairly young team and it will be interesting to see how they follow up next week coming off of a successful game and raised expectations. How will they respond to a road atmosphere or entering the game as an underdog? Those questions will be answered within the next month, but until then, there is a reason to be optimistic and while it is okay to be optimistic, this team has not earned the right to look past the next game on the schedule.
Next Saturday, Florida will face the East Carolina Pirates before beginning conference play. The Gators will be favored again, but finding more success and building confidence before traveling to Kentucky is important. The SEC has a way of humbling teams and players, especially those who trademark their names after one game. This season will be a grind, full of high’s and lows, If McElwain and this staff can continue to build on the foundation laid on Saturday, this team will have an opportunity to contend in the SEC East.
In this age of college football media and fans are quick to anoint teams and players as the next great this or the next great that. Coach McElwain was proud of this teams performance, but understands this game was not an arrival.
“We’ve got a long ways to go as a ball squad.”