That’s the number of days before Florida begins fall camp and the preparation begins in earnest for Florida’s 2014 season. Saturday was merely a measuring stick, a first showing of things to come for the Gators. That’s what spring is about: newness.
It’s a new beginning for quarterback Jeff Driskel, offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and the other myriad of players that succumbed to the massive amount of injuries that defined UF’s 2013 campaign. Spring is also a time for optimism. No opponents for four months means mostly smiles after a 23-23 “good on good” tie in this year’s Orange and Blue Debut.
Head coach Will Muschamp was appreciative of the fan turnout of 35,834, calling it the best he’s seen since arriving at UF in 2011. Those fans were treated to a sluggish first team offense at the start of the game that gradually developed the tempo Muschamp was looking to see as the scrimmage went on, tallying 312 total yards.
“I think being healthier is No. 1. I think we have upgraded our talent,” he said. “We’re as good at wideout as we’ve been. We’re as good at quality and depth at running back as we’ve been. Jeff [Driskel]’s playing his best football. I think you take our five offensive lineman, I feel pretty good about where we are.”
One of the main things Florida’s offense was able to do to its defense was create opportunities for players in space, that’s a core tenet in Roper’s offensive system and one that Muschamp says his defense had to adjust to as the game went on. The bottom line is Florida missed more than its fair share of open-field tackles, and that’s something quite disconcerting to its head coach.
“Now when you play against an offense like we have,” Muschamp said. “We’re going to create tempo and we’re going to create space plays so you’ve got to be able to tackle in space and it was pretty obvious on some of the more explosive plays we had the ball hemmed up, we didn’t leverage it right, we didn’t get the guy on the ground, so that is a huge concern.”
But that’s what spring games are about, it’s the test kitchen for the full-course meal coming later this year. Better to address problems and issues now to work on them throughout the summer months, then have glaring issues come to light in September.
One of the huge wrinkles that needed to be ironed out this spring was the kicking game, a revolving door of missed field goals plagued the Gators in 2013, so much so that in the Orange and Blue Debut Austin Hardin equaled his number of made field goals in all of 2013 during the Saturday scrimmage with four makes. Although a famous coach once said “you play to win the game” Muschamp wasn’t, he was focused on allowing his kickers as many reps as possible even if it meant ending the game in a tie, so instead of going for two at the end of the fourth quarter, kicker Frankie Velez toed the leather to knot the game up at 23 with an extra point.
“I wanted to kick as many times as I could,” Muschamp said. “Frankie had not had an opportunity, so I wanted — as many times as we could kick, I wanted to kick. So those guys kicking, I thought Austin kicked extremely well.”
With that, Florida closes the book on football until the fall. Spring has sprung, and Florida attempted to make the most of it in the 15 practices they had including the Orange and Blue Debut. But will the work done when the pollen is out translate to when the leaves are falling?
We’ll have 112 days to await the answer to that question.