It was just a spring game. And in the overall scheme of things, spring games mean less than one of those coffee cups saying “Smartest Georgia Fan” but for Gator fans it was a first look at the new offense. And I might add, a much anticipated first look.
The offense the last few years has been horrific. It hasn’t simply been boring or uninspired, it has been really bad. Last year, for the first time in memory, I really didn’t want to watch the Gators play. There was absolutely no enjoyment in watching that Georgia Southern game.
Brent Pease was shown the door and Kurt Roper entered. There was renewed hope amongst the Gator Nation but there is some understandable trepidation. Charlie Weis was supposed to be an offensive guru. Then Pease was supposed to make Gator fans forget the Weis fiasco. I mean hey, even Nick Saban wanted Pease, right? So the Gator Nation gave Pease a chance, and it ended disastrously.
Receivers could not get open. Linemen could not block. Quarterbacks could not stay healthy and seemed to have little clue about what they were supposed to do when they were healthy. For a while, the defense kept Florida in games. Then too many three and outs and far too many short fields caught up with the defense as well. All of this culminated in an embarrassing loss at home to Georgia Southern last season. Something had to be done.
Enter Kurt Roper. Clearly, there are still many skeptical Gator fans. And while there were signs of life in the offense in the Orange and Blue game, it wasn’t the Fun and Gun either. There were sharp pass routes. There were nice runs by three different backs. Jeff Driskel had some moments but he still looked inaccurate and indecisive at times. This could just be rust from months of inactivity. Or, this could be as good as it gets with Driskel. The Gator Nation will not find out the answer until the fall.
True freshman Will Grier showed a very good arm and a few really nice passes. He also made some freshmen mistakes and did not appear to be ready to lead a team to SEC prowess just yet. Many Gator fans are basing their hopes on incoming freshman Treon Harris. I don’t see it. True or even redshirt freshmen are seldom successful in the SEC. Grier is unlikely to be ready even with 15 spring practices and experience in the Orange and Blue game. A true freshman without even the benefit of spring practice is not likely to lead Florida to the kind of season Will Muschamp probably needs and Gator fans expect.
The Gator Nation needs to hope that Driskel puts it all together as it is unlikely that Florida will be playing in Atlanta for the SEC crown come December if anyone else has to play many meaningful downs this season at quarterback. I know fans don’t want to hear that, but it is reality. The new offense is better suited to Driskel’s talents and he really was not able to use his running ability to help open up the passing game in the spring game. That will be a big part of his arsenal in the fall. This, of course, opens up concerns about Jeff staying healthy which is something he has struggled to do so far in his college career. He will need to stay on the field for Florida to get where they want to be in 2014.
Of course, the offensive line must stay healthy as well. While there is real talent along the line there is not a great deal of depth. Another season of injuries along the line like what took place in 2013 and the win-loss record may be similar. I am concerned about snaps in the shotgun as well. There have been struggles in this endeavor all spring. That cannot still be such an adventure come fall.
There are still far more questions about the Gator offense and therefore the upcoming season than there are definitive answers but there is at least some foundation for hope. The young playmakers at receiver are growing up and look ready to make plays. Joker Phillips has them running much better routes than has been the norm here in quite some time. There should be a stable of talented running backs at Roper’s disposal in the fall. It is nearly unimaginable that the offense can be anywhere near as bad as it has been the last two seasons and every reason to believe that the defense will be just as solid as it has been.
This Gator team is a talented team. More talented and more prepared by far than last season’s injury decimated squad. If Roper is even close to as good as I think he is, this could be a very good season and 2015 could be a spectacular campaign. At the very least, the nightmare that was the 2013 season is over and it is time to get behind these current Gators and support them. This is the group that will return Florida to respectability.