The Florida Gators football team dominated New Mexico State on Saturday and Jim McElwain’s offense was very impressive in the win, scoring 61 points while spreading the ball around to more than 20 different players.
Nick de la Torre and Andrew Spivey break it down for you in this edition of the Gator Country podcast as they go in-depth on the offensive production, plus why Austin Hardin looked like an All-American on Saturday night.
Andrew and Nick also hand out their game balls for the week and they ACTUALLY agree on one this week!
Andrew: What is up, Gator Country? First game in the books, Gators successful 61-13 with over 600 yards of total offense. Nick, the Swamp was rocking. The Gator offense was rocking. Successful night. There were some holes that still need to be fixed, some things that need to be fixed, but I think you called Jim McElwain’s opening game as a Gator successful.
Nick: Yeah. First off, the crowd was fantastic. One of the first times where I couldn’t be snarky on Twitter when the announced crowd comes out, and you look around and you say, how did they get to that number? They announced 9,277 last night, and that was pretty darn close if there wasn’t that many. The place was packed. People were in their seats before kickoff, which was new and nice to see. The crowd was electric. McElwain really lauded them for being smart, knowing when to get loud, knowing when to be quiet in certain situations. You don’t want a crowd just to be yelling all the time. You’d like to have an environment where you can communicate when you’re on offense, rather than having to go to hand signals when you’re at home. The crowd was fantastic.
I really wasn’t impressed by the offense, and this is what I mean by it. I said this last night. I don’t think there was really a play that you can point to that really wowed you, but everything Florida did offensively was sound. It was efficient, and it was clean. I think that’s what Jim McElwain was going for. He’s not going for how many trick plays can we throw out there, because fans will respond to that. He’s not worried about winning a beauty contest. He wants no penalties. He wants the football team to operate like a well-oiled machine, and I think that’s what they did last night.
Andrew: 61 points. That enough to get the fans excited.
Nick: 61 points is exciting, but it might have been one of the most boring 61 point performances that I’ve seen. I’m not saying that in a bad way. I’m trying to say that Florida’s offense might be boring, but that doesn’t matter if you’re still getting the job done. I’m not saying boring in a sense of Will Muschamp’s offenses where boring meant one yard dive up the middle, one yard dive up the middle, crap. Now it’s 3rd and 8, let’s try to throw the ball to somebody, sack. Not that kind of boring. By boring I mean, we’re picking up 5, there we picked up 10, picked up 8, picked up 5. It’s just a methodical offense moving down the field, not so much the Miami Hurricanes team from 2001 where Ken Dorsey and the Hurricanes’ average scoring drive was 45 seconds. They would just get the ball, score immediately in some kind of spectacular fashion, and their defense was back on the field.
Andrew: Yeah, but that’s signature McElwain, and that is control the ball, control the ball and score points. Move the ball methodically down the field, and do what you do. I think the longest scoring drive of the game was like 440, so not bad, if that’s what you’re looking at. Not bad at all. I don’t think it took much for fans to be impressed though, because the forward pass is no legal in the Swamp. It’s like the gates opened, and the security guard said, this is okay. That’s exactly what happened. I see what you’re saying in that you didn’t see the big play in that. You did see a few.
Nick: I’m not really looking for it. I say that it was boring, but the game yesterday didn’t leave me asking for anything else. I’m not leaving that game and saying, damn, I wish they would have thrown some more long passes. No. Everything that happened yesterday was to a T down to the game plan.
Andrew: Yeah, it was. The first big play that kind of got the crowd excited was the Brandon Powell one where Treon Harris kind of threw a flying duck.
Nick: That was not a good pass.
Andrew: Kind of threw a flying duck, but it was there.
Nick: It kind of looked like the pooch punt that Rogers had on their first drive. That’s what the pass looked like.
Andrew: I think the plays that made me the most excited was seeing play action football again. Play action under center and able to throw a ball to a tight end or H back, whatever you want to call it, in Goolsby, and seeing it get completed, or seeing a 3rd down slant pass get completed, or a 3rd down simple curl sit down in zone coverage. I think that’s the place that probably excited me the most, and that probably tells you about what last four years we’ve gone through, which was pure hell if you’re talking about offense. Overall, I’m going to throw a couple stats out real quick. 10 people rushed the football, amazing. 14 players caught the ball, not all receivers.
Nick, here’s the stat. This is what I want to throw at you. You and I were talking about this before we got on the air. The receivers, or the tight ends, we had talked about this last year, I mean earlier this year, and we had talked about how they were going to be a big key to the season. Would you just like to venture on how it was this year compared to the last two years? Throw the stat at everybody.
Nick: When you say tight end, are you referring to Will Muschamp’s offensive/defensive end position?
Andrew: I mean, yeah, they were listed at tight ends, but yes. What I’m saying is the last two years compared to one game. Throw that stat at everybody, and let’s just ah for a second.
Nick: Okay. Last night, I guess I’ll start with the past years. The defensive ends that were playing tight end in the past two years had a total of 3 touchdowns. They had a total of 30 catches and 279 yards, and that is a two season total. So 270 yards, 30 catches, 2 touchdowns. Last night the tight end position, which is slightly different from the offensive/defensive end position. Andrew, tell them what the tight ends did last night.
Andrew: 7 for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns. Let’s just get, 7 catches. That is roughly a third, not quite a third. 100 yards, that is a third, over a third, and 2 touchdowns. 2 touchdowns now, that was in one football game. That is New Mexico State, but that’s also those two years, 2013, 2014 was Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Georgia Southern, a very bad Vanderbilt football team, very bad Kentucky football teams.
Nick: Yeah, you can say it was a bad New Mexico State team, but the numbers we gave you for Kevin Westbrooke and Clay Burton are two years’ worth of football games, and it doesn’t matter who the opponent is, we’re talking a third of the receptions, over a third, almost a half, of the yards, and one less touchdown in one game from the same position.
Andrew: And three tight ends were involved compared to two that last two years. You start to dive into it, and it’s like last year Florida didn’t have McGee. Where was C’yontai Lewis? Where was Gooslby? Yes, they made big improvements over the off-season, but they didn’t make that big of improvement that they wasn’t good enough to play last year. The one thing that I did see that I really like with Gooslby was, you and I kind of talked about this, how was Gooslby going to get involved with C’yontai and McGee both being that big threat, big man tight end? We saw that. Goolsby’s going to be that H back type of player to where he’s going to be that guy to get in the flats, and he had a couple of really nice catches that I really liked. His longest one coming from on a 23 yard gain, and a lot of that was YAC yards completely after the catch. I thought that Goolsby was a good player and an athletic player, but I didn’t realize he had the moves he did last night. He had some good moves on that.
Overall very impressive tight ends, and then you go to look at the running backs. Kelvin Taylor had two catches for 41 yards in the game last night as well, with his longest one being a 40 yard catch after run, and that was a big play for Florida. Really after he caught the ball he made some guys miss. I thought Kelvin really looked like a different football player last night on Saturday night compared to he has in years past.
Nick: Yeah. I think I mentioned it in our last podcast before the game. Kelvin, to me, looks like he’s slimmed down some. Really looks like he’s found a different speed, a different gear this year. I think fans saw that. Also there was some dancing going on on that 40 yard catch, but for the most part, and Mac said it after the game, Kelvin wasn’t hitting R, hitting B, in the back field just spinning the back field. He was reading what the offensive line was doing, finding a hole, planting his foot, getting north and south.
Andrew: I know I talked about this last time we were on the air here. Tim Skipper, big time props to Tim Skipper with what he’s done with Kelvin Taylor. He has been a guy that kind of got Kelvin motivated, is a guy that’s kind of been the best thing to happen for Kelvin Taylor. It reminds me a lot of what Chris Rumph has done for Caleb Brantley in that he has finally found the right buttons to push and the right things to get Kelvin motivated. Again, Kelvin looked like a guy running the ball that had been taught to stick his foot in the ground and get north and south. Stop this east, west stuff in the back field. It was, stick your foot in the ground and get up the field, and that was big on the goal line yesterday in his one touchdown.
Nick: Yeah. I want to talk about the other running backs as well. Jordan Scarlett, we knew—
Andrew: Of course, you’re talking about Scarlett.
Nick: Naturally. Jordan Scarlett we kind of knew what he was, a bigger back, so when you see him running with a full head of steam, playing behind his pads, no surprise. We’ve told you to expect that. I was surprised the way that Jordan Cronkrite ran behind his pads last night. We have talked about him as kind of the change of pace guy, maybe the slightly smaller back. He’s still a big kid, but the slightly smaller back who’s a little shiftier. Jordan Cronkrite played behind his pads last night. He was not afraid of contact, and he looked more, all three running backs looked more like players who were ready to initiate contact rather than to get hit.
Andrew: He trucked the human being on that touchdown.
Nick: Now I want to see this guys, this was New Mexico State, so I want to see these guys continue to run behind their pads when you get the linebackers from Kentucky and Tennessee and Ole Miss coming against you. Those guys are going to be a little bit bigger than what the Aggies were able to bring on Saturday, but that was a note I wanted to bring up, something that did surprise me seeing how physical Jordan Cronkrite was running the football.
Andrew: I can you one thing. Jordan Scarlett’s not afraid of a human being on this planet, and he’s not going to think twice about running over anybody. The first carry he got he lowered his shoulder, ran over a guy, got an extra 3 yards in that.
Now talking about physical play, I know we’re kind of jumping around here a little bit. To get off the running backs and go to physical play. I really liked Demarcus Robinson’s game yesterday. I thought he had a lot of catches, but I need to see Demarcus Robinson get physical with those wide receivers.
Nick: Not going to happen.
Andrew: I know that. I know that it hasn’t happened, but I need to see Demarcus, if Florida’s going to continue running that play, I need to see Demarcus Robinson get physical with the wide receiver screens. You and I talked about this.
Nick: Demarcus Robinson is as interested in contact as you and I are. I’m not trying to get hit in the press box when I’m there on Saturday. I know you’re not trying to get hit. Demarcus Robinson, if they had like a flag football league, a professional flag football league, he would love that. He has no interest in getting hit or hitting somebody, and that’s okay by me, because he’s a guy you want with the ball in his hands, hopefully not getting hit too hard anyway.
Andrew: Yeah. I need to see Demarcus get north and south on those wide receiver, they’re not even screens. It’s almost just a popup pass. It’s what made Julio Jones so great at Alabama. I say that because Julio would take one step, either inside or outside, and he would get up the field, and he was gone. It’s one on one. It’s Robinson versus a cornerback. There’s not too many cornerbacks that should be able to stop Demarcus Robinson one on one, and two of those guys play here for the Florida Gators, and that’s Tabor and Vernon Hargreaves. So there’s not too many more corners that I think can do that.
I just need to see Demarcus stop going east and west so much and go north and south, if that play is going to work for Robinson for Florida, and McElwain seems to want to throw that ball to Robinson in that popup pass three to four times a game, like he did on Saturday night. If it is going to be a productive play, things have got to get a little better, or you’re going to have to go to more of a Callaway, CJ Worton, or Brandon Powell doing that play, simply because two or three yards is, I don’t want to say a waste, but it’s not what it should be.
Nick: Yeah. I think Demarcus was the most targeted guy last night. He had 5 catches for 32 yards. I think there could have been some more yards there, if what Andrew what said. If he would have been more physical, that’s not part of his game. That physicality is not in Demarcus Robinson’s game. When you’re talking about Julio Jones, Julio Jones would catch that pop pass, that it’s not really a screen it’s just kind of the quarterback’s taking the ball, one step is a plant, and throw it. Julio Jones had no problem catching the ball, looking at a cornerback in the eyes running straight at him, sticking his hand in someone’s face mask, and then making a move. Demarcus Robinson’s first instinct is stop, crap there’s a guy there, how do I not get hit?
Andrew: Again, that’s fine. That’s Demarcus Robinson as a player, and I’m not hating him at all for that. It’s just it needs to get a little bit better. I will say though that the plays that made me very impressed with Demarcus Robinson was the 2 minute drill. He ran two back to back really good out routes. Caught the ball very good possession, got out of bounds and saved the clock. Didn’t try to fight for extra yards, and those were two plays that I like to see out of my stud receiver in the 2 minute drill.
Nick: Yeah. That’s a great route for Demarcus Robinson, because he can get out of bounds before someone hits him, but that is a play that you need from your big time, your go-to guy. Just a simple out route, even if it’s not moving the chains, in a 2 minute drill to pick up a chunk of yards, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 yards, to be able to pick up a chunk of yards, get out of bounds, stop the clock. You need to have a go-to guy like Demarcus Robinson that you can count on. 3rd down and 5, we need to pick at least 3 up. We know the clock’s going down. We’re probably going to go for it on 4th. Who can we look to? Who can we count on here to give us those yards? I think that Demarcus Robinson and that little out route is something that you’re going to see throughout the year.
Sticking with the receivers, almost a third of the passes went to three guys that we have mentioned a lot as receivers to look out for. Antonio Callaway had three catches for 26 yards. CJ Worton, 3 catches, 23 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Powell, 2 catches for 50 yards and a touchdown. I really think, even though those numbers individually aren’t impressive. Demarcus Robinson only had 5 catches. He had a game against Kentucky last year with 20. So when I say Brandon Powell had a great game, he only caught the ball twice, I think you can see how Jim McElwain is trying to feature these playmakers specifically. Obviously we talked about the tight ends already, but Brandon Powell’s going to be a fixture in this offense. CJ Worton is going to be a fixture in this offense. Antonio Callaway, the freshman, getting a start in his first game. He is going to be a fixture in this offense.
Andrew: Yes, and if you’ve listened to us you knew that was not a surprise to see Callaway get on the field and play early. He looks like he’s going to be that guy that is going to be the guy that they do like to throw those little screens to. Yesterday it did not work out as well. I think a lot of that is because New Mexico was kind of playing more of a close zone. They were not respecting the deep ball, so it was a lot more guys in the box for that little slip screens they wanted to do. To kind of say though, Robinson 5 catches, Callaway 3, and Worton with 3, you’ve got to also remember that basically the entire roster played last night receiver, including walk-on Roger Dixon, who actually got a catch as well, 1 catch for 3 yards.
So basically the whole team got on the field from the receiver position. I think you and I have kind of talked about it, as you see conference play comes you’ll start to reduce those guys that play. One interesting note on the receivers, I guess the first little bad note, is every receiver that played in the game had a catch except for Ahmad Fulwood, and he had a really bad drop on probably the most wide open pass we’ll see in his career at Florida.
Nick: Yeah. To me, not surprising. It’s kind of what I’ve been trying to say about Ahmad is that really the only consistency I’ve seen from him is consistently dropping passes. Other than that, very inconsistent player. I’m not sure why. He has all the physical tools, all the physical traits, to be able to do it. He just needs to put it together. I don’t understand it. I’m sure Jim McElwain’s puzzled by it. He had Ahmad Fulwood listed as a starter when the depth chart came out, and really when you have a drop as bad as that one you can’t expect a quarterback to have any confidence in you moving forward. You’re probably not going to get many targets the rest of the game.
Andrew: I guess the thing that surprised me most about that play though was he didn’t expect the football. As a receiver, you should always expect the football. You should always have your eyes back on the quarterback expecting the ball, and he almost looked dazed, surprised that the ball was coming there. To me, that’s kind of a lack of confidence in yourself.
To get off the receivers a little bit…
Nick: Hold on, Andrew. We’ve made it about 20 minutes into the podcast, and we have yet to talk about the quarterbacks.
Andrew: That’s where I’m going.
Nick: I think the fans will try to hunt us down if we skip over the quarterbacks.
Andrew: That’s where I’m going. I want to go with the quarterbacks here. Can’t forget. Treon Harris starts 7 for 7, ends up 14 for 19, 215 yards, 2 touchdowns. Will Grier ends up on the night 15 to 17, 164 yards passing, 2 touchdowns, and he also had 43 yards rushing and a touchdown. Treon Harris had 23 yards rushing. Overall, I thought the quarterback play was very good. I think that even though it was against New Mexico State I saw things that showed me these guys got better. Will Grier, his mechanics looked a lot sharper to me. He threw the ball really well, to me. One thing I also noticed from Will was his shorter intermediate routes. He threw the ball with more touch instead of more of your fast ball.
Then with Treon Harris, I saw a guy that was driving through with his passes, going through with the ball. The only difference I saw was, like you and I talked about, you said for a long time now, Will Grier leaves his guys open, throws the ball more on time than Treon Harris does.
Nick: Will Grier throws his receivers open. What I mean by that is even if a guy is slightly covered Grier puts the ball in a position where only the receiver’s going to get it, and he’s going to be able to catch the ball in stride and turn. So Grier throws to spots, throws his receivers open, better than Treon does. You can see Treon’s either hitting guys right in the body, which is still a good pass, or even sometimes behind guys. I think you really see a difference in that. To me, I thought the offense moved a little more efficiently with Grier in there. You can’t really knock Treon for the game that he had, 14 of 19 for 215, 2 touchdowns. It’s just to me it seems like Treon is a little more indecisive than Will Grier.
The big thing that I’m hearing from fans is I think Treon should play, because the offensive line is shaky, and he’s a better runner. Will Grier had a 38 yard scramble last night, which was the longest run a Gator quarterback has had since Jeff Driskel had the 70 yard run up in Nashville playing against Vanderbilt a couple years back. Don’t tell me Treon Harris can run and Will Grier can’t, so that’s why he needs to play, because Florida’s offensive line is shaky. Will Grier can run. He’s not a mobile quarterback in every sense of the word, but Grier can move up in the pocket. He can sense pressure and move around.
On the play where he fumbled, he sensed pressure, and instead of taking off immediately tried to stick with the play. He moved up in the pocket, unfortunately made a poor decision trying to keep the ball low and not protecting it, but I like that the entire time that play was breaking down from the strong side that Grier stayed calm, stepped up into the pocket, found a place to where he could make a throw. Just needs to have a little better ball security.
Andrew: I agree. I think that the opinion that Treon is better because the offensive line can work one or two ways. I think that can work for him, and I think it can work against him. Will’s a taller guy, so as pressure comes he’s still there to see over the line. You saw that a lot yesterday at well. He’s still athletic enough to make the play, like you say. Treon Harris, he played well. The thing that bothered me with Treon a little bit last night was there were several passes that were caught that in SEC football were probably picked, because of his late decision making with it.
Nick: His touchdown pass to Brandon Powell’s not going to be a completion against Ole Miss.
Andrew: No, but that’s not even the play I’m talking about. I’m talking about there was a play in the third quarter to Jake McGee on 3rd down. He fitted it in between two guys on a zone. The play was there. That’s a play you have to read. You see zone. You see that that’s going to be your open target. You throw your receiver there. That’s something that is there with it as well. There was a play action pass in the third quarter as well where it was play action. The defensive end stayed home, like he should have, which is going to happen in SEC, but Treon being a shorter guy he was not able to throw over the defensive end. He had to throw an incomplete. A guy like Will, he’s over there, he’s able to still throw it over the guy. The guy’s wide open. It was Jake McGee on a little out route, a little delayed out route to the left hand side on the play there.
That’s kind of where I’m at there. I liked Will’s decision making more than Treon. I will say this though, Treon impressed me a ton. He is a better quarterback than he was last year. I can now see why McElwain has trouble picking a quarterback in this offense, because they’re both really good quarterbacks.
I want to go to something real quick, Nick, before I get to your next point. We talked about the 2 minute drill, and I want to go back to that real quick. The 2 minute drill in the second quarter, 7 plays for 75 yards in 1:22. I don’t when the last time, and you can correct me if I’m wrong here, I don’t remember a 2 minute drive in the last two years that has ended successful and was ran like a 2 minute drill should run. Have you remembered that, and what were your thoughts on that 2 minute drill?
Nick: Do I remember a Florida drive that was run that well? No. I would probably have to go back to maybe last year against Eastern Michigan when the fans were screaming that they wanted 70 points, but I really haven’t. Obviously that was Will Grier running the offense there. Grier played kind of the second and third quarter. It was just efficient. I think that drive ended with a touchdown pass.
Andrew: To C’yontai.
Nick: To C’yontai. Up the seam. That was nice. That was a pass into a tight window. C’yontai Lewis did a good job of using his body to shield the defender. Will Grier put the pass right where it needed to be. I like to see Florida attacking the seams where every pass isn’t on the outside of the hash marks. You can throw the ball in between the hash marks, it’s not illegal. That was a great drive to me, and that was something, I said when that drive started not a lot of time left on the clock, and I said, interested to see what Mac does here, because with Will Muschamp that might have been let’s try one pass that doesn’t work. We’re going to run the clock down, and we’ll just go into half time. We’re already up a bunch of points. We’ll just go into half time, it’ll be fine. It was nice to see Florida for the first time in a long time act like a normal football team and be aggressive to try to get more points before half time.
Andrew: Yeah. I think McElwain didn’t go out pressing. He wanted to see a 1st down, and once the first 1st down happened, then it was let’s go. Let’s go. Then it was back to back really good passes on out routes. I believe both of them were out routes to Demarcus Robinson, but I do know they were both out routes. That was a really good plays there, and as you saw there was a coverage mishap on the seam route to C’yontai Lewis, but that’s something that’s going to happen. There’s going to be coverage breakdowns in the middle of the field with guys like C’yontai Lewis. That’s what he brings. He caught the ball like a confident receiver and got in the end zone. He was a breakout guy in my opinion.
Nick: Make no mistake about it, coverage mishaps, blown coverages, can be a mental mistake on the defense, but that can also be something that the offensive coaches design. As an offensive coach, as a play caller, you can design things that you know are going to confuse the defense and are going to cause those breakdowns.
Andrew: Yeah. You set plays up to set other things up, and the setup had been the corner route to Brandon Powell two plays in a row, and then it was, I want to say, don’t quote me here, but I want to say it was a deep out route to Antonio Callaway on the drive before that was inside the 30 that kind of setup that the safety had shifted over to the right side of the formation, leaving that middle of the field open for a guy like C’yontai Lewis to go up that hash mark. Again, it was all set up there. New Mexico, Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU, Florida, everybody’s going to make defensive mishaps on coverages, and when you game plan for that kind of stuff it’s going to happen. McElwain had a game plan. He stuck to it, and it worked out. New Mexico, whoever you want to call it they played, whoever they play, he had a good game plan.
Nick: Before we move to defense, I want to…
Andrew: Go to OL. Yeah, let’s go to OL.
Nick: You kind of broke something down for me before we started. It was that sack fumble, talking a little bit about Kelvin Taylor and maybe something that he might have missed there on the sack. You also mentioned something that McElwain talked about. Break that down. You broke it down for me. Put your coaching hat on. Blow the whistle, and break it down for the listeners.
Andrew: It was an overload to the right hand side there. You had the linebacker, it looked like the weak side linebacker, coming through, and he was unblocked, but it was play action to the left. There’s two ways you can look at this, and, again without me being in the play calling and hearing the play calling from McElwain it’s hard for me to blame either Kelvin Taylor or was it a mishap on the offensive line? To break it down first, there is a lot of times that a coach will tell a running back, if you see blitz coming from the opposite side of the play action you immediately stop your play action, and you’re running through with your fake. So that would mean Kelvin Taylor would slide over, pick up that guy. That’s something McElwain kind of talked about as well, if you were able to watch Florida’s preview that they did on SEC Network. He talked to Kelvin about this particular play of don’t pass up color, and that means don’t pass up the opposing team color, or the opponent’s color.
So I think it’s going to be Kelvin Taylor not seeing that and stopping his fake and picking that guy up, or it could have been a simple mishap on the offensive line where they didn’t shift protection to the right side so that Kelvin Taylor could pick up that defensive end on the left side. Without being in the play calling and knowing that, it could be one or two things. It could either be offensive line didn’t shift, or Kelvin Taylor didn’t simply stop his fake, but either way that was a really bad breakdown, more so in communication than it was in a player making a mistake.
Nick: Explain quickly what Mac means by don’t pass color.
Andrew: Simply if you tell me, Nick, you say, Andrew, your job is to pick up the linebacker, and I see a defensive end crossing my face, I don’t want to pass that defensive end to go to my position, or if my job is to run out my fake and then go to the flat, and I see a guy coming, I pick that guy up before I go into the flats. You never want to allow a free rusher to go to your quarterback, because that affects the whole play, compared to just taking yourself out of the play. Then you still have three to four options going in your passing game. That’s something that McElwain will preach to Kelvin Taylor, Scarlett, and Cronkrite is if you see a guy coming you always want to pick up that first guy that is going to be dangerous to your quarterback.
Nick: That concludes our first session of Andrew Spivey’s Coaching Corner.
Andrew: Let’s go offensive line though real quick. What were your overall impressions? I’ve told you my impression. I’ll say them again after I kind of hear your thing. Overall impressions good and bad.
Nick: My overall impressions are I was left underwhelmed by the offensive line, and I’m worried that the easy answer to being underwhelmed by the offensive line is Martez Ivey wasn’t playing. I’m worried that we’re putting a lot of stock in a true freshmen to make a line that I was not overly impressed with, there were definitely some bright spots. On Kelvin Taylor’s first big run on a toss Mason Halter pulls out, has a great impact block, 3, 4 yards up the field. So there are some bright spots, but overall I was not impressed with the offensive line, and it worries me that we’re putting a lot of stock, like I said, into a true freshman being able to make them much better.
Andrew: Yeah. I kind of see that point that you just made directed at me a little bit, even though I know it wasn’t. The center position there was a couple bad snaps. I see that. I give that more first game jitters, Cam Dilliard, because overall I thought the snaps were good, with the exception of one or two or maybe three. The one weakness I did see was the right tackle.
Nick: That first snap on the first offensive drive killed everything. Once that snap happened, you lose 13 yards, the drive was essentially done there.
Andrew: But besides that I think that the snapping was better. The weak spot for me is right tackle. I see that Mason Halter is a better guard than he is tackle. That’s no disrespect to Mason Halter. I think he’s a better guard, and I do think that Martez Ivey is an upgrade at right tackle. I did see some glimpses of Fred Johnson being very good. I just think that the right tackle was the weak spot on the offensive line in several different plays, and so that’s where I’m giving the weakness.
David Sharpe looked pretty good, in my opinion. Trip Thurman looked pretty good. Cam Dilliard had some bad snaps, and one play he just kind of absolutely hosed. Some guy trucked him like a Mack truck. Then Antonio Riles, he did okay, but I think Mason Halter’s the answer there, and then getting Martez Ivey at right tackle. In my opinion that’s a step up. I will say that while the offensive line had some bad things there were some really good block plays, but McElwain did try to adjust that by getting quick passes out to go against that pass rush.
Nick: Right. All kind of things that we’ve said. We said all along that we thought the best line was going to be Sharpe, Thurman, Dilliard or Jordan. Jordan got some time at guard and center last night. At right guard Halter, and then at right tackle Ivey. We’ve kind of said that all along. Ivey was on the sideline last night in street clothes, pretty big brace on his left knee. Not atypical for linemen. Every lineman at Florida has to wear those knee braces. They make them wear them. Every linemen is going to wear them. He’s going to have to wear it, Ivey will. When he comes back I think you see him slide back into right tackle, because David Sharpe, I agree with you, did kind of hold his own last night at left tackle. I agree with you, I think Halter is better suited at right guard.
I’m just worried, this not a good New Mexico State defense. What are they going to do when it’s Curt Maggitt lining up across from him? Robert Nkemdiche lining up across from them. There are some aliens in the SEC that play defensive line, and there will be a much bigger test down the line. Obviously the offensive line still has some time, another game against ECU before they start facing the SEC defensive linemen. I think there’s a lot of room for them to improve. They’re also very thin. I was very impressed with Fred Johnson for a true freshman to come into the game and play the way he did. I think he’s going to be a player to watch this season, and then the rest of his career. I’m still very worried about this offensive line once we get into SEC play.
Andrew: Yeah. Two quick notes real quick that I want to hit on a little bit. Marcus Tatum, offensive line target for this year, he had a good point to me. It’s something that I don’t think you and I have talked about enough. This offensive line has never played together before. I did not realize how big of a deal that was. I did. Now that I think about it I do know, but I didn’t think about it as much until he said something to me. He said, I don’t think you guys understand how hard it is for five offensive linemen to play well together in their first game. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. When he told me that it started to make me think about it more, and it made sense.
Then my second thing is experience there, but I don’t know if you saw back to back drives where the same five offensive linemen play in the same position. I think McElwain was toying with that a little bit, so I do think you’ll see a little bit more consistency when the same five guys are going drive after drive. Then you’re able to see the same thing. You did see Jordan switch in at right guard some. I did notice that Trip Thurman played a little bit of left and right. Halter played left and right. When you see that consistent line I think you get a little bit better. I do think it’s a work in progress, but if you’ve been following along and you know this team, you know that was going to be the case. This is going to be a working line. This offensive line will be better next week than it was this week, and Kentucky it will be better than the week before. It will get better as the season goes on.
Nick: That’s something that we’ve had a lot of time to talk to some offensive linemen during the Senior Bowl, during those weeks, and that’s something that all of them had said to us. Football is a team game, but there’s no position quite like offensive line as far as communicating and needing to play as one cohesive unit. So I see that point, and that’s what I say as far as this offensive line will be able to get some time together before those bigger defensive linemen, those tougher opponents, start coming up. I just don’t know if they are good enough to withstand, and they’re definitely not deep enough. I think you’ve got eight or nine offensive linemen in the game last night. Already mentioned Fred Johnson, but I still have major questions about the offensive line.
Andrew: I will say this. I do think McElwain’s able to game plan around them, and I do think that the offense will still be able to be successful, not as successful with it, and I do think they will get better. Nick, we’re running 40 minutes already, buddy, on this podcast. Let’s go quickly through the defense.
Nick: Here’s my note for the defense, and it kind of can sum everything up. Florida gave up 201 yards of offense to New Mexico State last night in the first half of football. Not really what Geoff Collins wanted to put out as his first impression. So you go into the locker room, you make some half time adjustments, and you hold New Mexico State to negative 1 total yards in the half. New Mexico State might be one of the worst teams in the country. I don’t care who you’re playing, when you hold 11 men who are doing their best to gain yards and score points, when you make them bend to your will and hold them to negative yards in a half of football that’s tremendous. That’s spectacular.
Hats off to Geoff Collins for making those adjustments, and to the defense for making that turnaround, going from kind of getting run all over in the first half, giving up over 200 yards of offense to a team like New Mexico State, to completely shutting them down in the second half. Didn’t let them convert a single 3rd down. On the night, on the entire night, New Mexico State was only 1 of 12 on 3rd down, so great 3rd down percentage. Florida only let them get into the red zone one time, and that was after the fumble when they had a short field to work with. So hats off to Geoff Collins for those adjustments. Hats off to the defense also for kind of saying, that’s not who we are. We’re not a team that’s going to give up that kind of yardage. Let’s show everybody that we are the best defense in the nation, and they did that in the second half.
Andrew: 201 in the first half and negative 1 in the second half. That’s impressive. Let me throw this stat out to you real quick. I’m looking over the game stats right now, and there was three big plays, and three big plays that were blown coverages by the safety. Resulted in 101 yards of the 200. I don’t know how many plays New Mexico ran all total. You may know that, but three plays resulted in over half of their yardage, and the rest of the game the defense only gave up 99 yards over the entire game. That’s impressive.
Nick: Yeah. And you got a lot of players in on defense towards the end of the game. New Mexico State only held the ball for 22 minutes and 4 seconds. Their total plays, they ran 51 total plays in the game.
Andrew: That means 48 plays went for 99 yards. That is less than 2 yards per play.
Nick: Yeah, and even when you factor in some of those blown coverages they only averaged 3.9 yards per play.
Andrew: With your backup safeties playing, because you did not see Duke Dawson until late in the game. You did not see Keanu Neal, and you did not see Marcus Maye in the game.
Nick: Or Alex McCallister.
Andrew: Or Alex McCallister in the game, and you didn’t see Morrison a ton in the game as well, as they’re trying to ease him back in the game. I don’t want to say the three plays were all on the safeties. Two of them were big time on the safeties. The one when Marcel Harris got burned, and then the next one where Brian Poole and Nick Washington didn’t make a play. So both of those were on the safeties, and that resulted in the 13 points New Mexico State scored. You see a difference when Keanu Neal, Duke Dawson, Marcus Maye are back there, for sure, but overall a good defense. I’ll say this. Two guys that impressed me a ton, Cece Jefferson, he looked like a man child for a freshman, and Justus Reed, his first two career sacks. He looked good off the edge for a guy that I wasn’t expecting to see a ton from.
Nick: Yeah. I wasn’t expecting to see a ton from Justus Reed. I had mentioned during the spring that he had done an incredible job changing his body. He was kind of lanky when I spoke to him as a recruit, again as a freshman. Now as a redshirt freshman Justus Reed looks like a totally different player. Cece Jefferson had some moments last night in the game that just had beast written all over them.
Andrew: He pushed a guy back 5 yards, a right tackle. I don’t care if it’s New Mexico or Florida State, you push a right tackle back 5 yards, you’re good.
Nick: That’s strong. That is strong. I do want to point out, you mentioned Antonio Morrison. Alex Anzalone is going to make people forget about Antonio Morrison. Morrison is a humble kid, so when I asked him about himself he always mentions his other teammates. He said Alex Anzalone is the quarterback of the defense. He said, I’m the least athletic of all of the linebackers. These guys are going to be much better than I am. Alex Anzalone’s speed, lateral quickness, the way he runs from sideline to sideline, the interception. Vernon Hargreaves had an interception. He did a great job of going up at high point in the football, but that was a duck pass.
Why was it a duck pass? Because Alex Anzalone sat down in his zone, saw the quarterback get pushed out because of pressure, and he just snapped. There was something in him that said, quarterback’s running, get to the quarterback, and he got there in no time flat, forced the quarterback to throw off his back foot, which caused the ball to fly in the air. It’s plays like that. You see an interception, you think who got the interception. That’s who made the play. Alex Anzalone forced that throw to be one that Vernon Hargreaves could take advantage of, and it’s something that kind of goes unnoticed.
Andrew: Yeah. He was all over the field. You got to remember, he was a running back in high school as well. He made some good plays in the game as well. All over the football field, as you say, and he’s just a guy that is very athletic. He led the team in tackles last night. Well, he co-led the team in tackles last night with Jalen Tabor. They both had five in the game. Overall, he just had a really incredible night for him. Jonathan Bullard had a good night. Tabor had probably the best tackle of the night on a screen play. He was getting held like it wasn’t nothing.
Nick: No. He got tackled. It passed the point of holding. Jalen Tabor, great form by the wide receiver, by the way, he wrapped him up, brought him to the ground, great tackling. He might have a future playing defensive back. Where’s the flag there?
Andrew: For real.
Nick: Real quick, I want to ask you, because you’ve been pretty vocal about keeping Vernon Hargreaves off of special teams. He had one punt return last night, brought that back for 11 yards. Just the punt return. He had a reception as well. Now that you see Hargreaves returning punts, he really only had the one return, because the punter last night had trouble even getting the ball to him on his first couple punts, and then he had a couple fair catches in traffic, which I think is really why you have him back there, because you trust him to make the right decision and catch the ball in traffic. He showed that. Thoughts, same feelings on Vernon Hargreaves being on special teams?
Andrew: I’m actually starting to go to your side of thinking a little bit. I guess with the punt return, the thing for me is I don’t know if Vernon Hargreaves is ever going to take a punt and just run away from everybody. I don’t think he’s that athletic, but you said the thing. He’s going to catch the ball. You’re not going to worry about him letting it drop. He’s going to make the plays, and he’s going to get some yards with it. I’m very open to him doing it now. It does worry me that your best player is going to take some shots, except for I do think Vernon’s smart enough to not stand back there and get popped a lot. It does start to work out a little bit better for him, and getting him some plays on offense is good as well. He’s a playmaker, no doubt. I’m just not sure if he is the electrifying return man you want to see back there. Overall I think it’s starting to grow on me, I guess, is the way to say it.
Nick: Right. Okay. That’s all we can ask.
Andrew: You know how that is. Brandon Powell did look good on that. I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t say Austin Hardin, welcome to college football, buddy. Thank goodness that this new coaching staff is allowing him. He’s trying to kick field goals on kickoff.
Nick: It’s something that I didn’t even realize. I was a big proponent the past two years, I’ve watched Austin. I know that he has a strong leg. The question with Austin has never been his leg strength, it’s been left or right on kick on field goals? So to me, asking somebody who has the ability to kick the ball into the stands on kickoffs, why are you having him try to pooch a punt into this tiny target zone on the 5 yard line? I think McElwain came in and said, we’re not going to get cute. Can you kick the ball into the end zone? Yes, sir, I can. Go ahead and do that then.
You mentioned something to me last night during the game that didn’t even register with me before that, and it’s that something as small as that can give Hardin confidence when it comes to kicking field goals. Just being able to trot out there on a kickoff and be allowed to get a full swing and really crush a ball has to feel good for him, and kicking is so mental, but just to have those good vibes, that good thought process, that good feeling going back to the sideline can carry over when he’s asked to kick a field goal.
Andrew: Yeah. I mean, any time you see that go through on touch back is confidence for him, and both of his field goals looked really good, and that’s something you can say, it was New Mexico State. It doesn’t matter. He’s still got to kick the ball through the uprights, and both of those looked like they were kicked solidly with good intensity through there. You go back to touch back, and when you go back and you listen to the replay of the game, Musburger, he made a great point in the game when he said that it’s a very good tool to have in your tool bag when you know that your opposing team is going to start on the 25 yard line every time, because your kicker’s going to kick it out of bounds. That means that in order for that team to score they must go 75 yards.