I think I speak for almost everybody in the Gator Nation when I say, “that was fun”. Notice that I say ALMOST everybody, I have learned along the way that there are a certain (usually small) percentage of every fan base that is too worried about tomorrow’s possible loss to enjoy today’s big win. I feel for them. That must make the football season very difficult.
Yes, I realize that it was only Eastern Michigan, with all due respect to the Eagles, but it has been a very long time since I have witnessed Gator offensive players having so much fun during a game. I don’t believe it is possible to oversell just how important that is to the future of the program, both this season and for seasons to come. For this season, Saturday was the first step toward building much needed confidence on the offensive side of the ball. Kentucky will be a bigger challenge and a reasonable step up the difficulty stairway in preparation for the daunting task of going to Tuscaloosa in two week. Long term it is much easier to recruit the elite offensive players in talent-rich Florida when they see these Gators enjoying the game.
It is worth noting that this was the second game of the season for Eastern Michigan while it was Florida’s first game of the year. The fact that the Gators were still able to dominate every aspect of the game is a good sign. Even so, there were some areas of concern. Multiple kickoffs out of bounds must be corrected. You cannot spot a quality team that extra yardage to start drives. While Jeff Driskel looks to have improved noticeably under Kurt Roper’s tutelage, there were still a few plays where he appeared to have locked in on receivers which could be problematic with some of the defenses Florida will face down the road. That is a correctable issue and this season Jeff will actually be coached up by one of the best week to week.
Last week I jokingly did a good, bad and ugly segment, but I don’t know that I could come up with a bad for this one. Ugly would certainly apply to Jake McGee’s injury. After last season, the mere mention of the word injury causes stress and trepidation and I hate to see any young man lose an entire season of football regardless of who he may play for. Well, there is that Winston guy….just kidding, mostly. One area where the Gators can ill afford any injuries is the offensive line, but injuries are almost a given for that unit for every team. DJ Humphries has a bone chip that may cost him two to three weeks. Florida would like to see him back for the Alabama game but that might be a reach. Hopefully, Humphries will recover quickly. There is not enough depth at tackle to cover for that loss for very long.
Overall, I thought the offensive line looked much better than it did at pretty much any point last season. Again, I realize that this was Eastern Michigan and not LSU but there were some great holes to run through. Pass protection was inconsistent at times and that will be a concern this week when Kentucky’s Alvin Dupree lines up against the Gators. These O-Linemen are learning a new offense and the pass blocking schemes are more difficult to master. The Gators will hope that they see the great jump in execution that sometimes comes between game one and game two. Again, they now have film to go over as a teaching tool.
The bottom line is that the Gators cranked out an impressive 655 total yards on offense. Four different running backs scored. Eleven different Gators caught passes. I haven’t looked but it sure seemed like there were entire games last season where there weren’t eleven total receptions in the game. Backup quarterback Treon Harris was an unbelievable 2-2 for 148 yards and two touchdowns. I think that equates to a thousand and something in QB rating. The Gator Nation was anxiously awaiting their first look at the new Gator offense and I cannot imagine any of them not being pleased with what they saw. Florida forced five turnovers in the game which is almost a third of last season’s total. Freshman Duke Dawson returned his first interception as a Gator for a touchdown. The defense as a whole only allowed 125 yards of total offense. Andre Debose was exceptional in the kick return department. Francisco Velez was 3-3 on field goals. As I said before, this game was dominated by the Gators in every aspect.
Of course, the competition gets more difficult each week for a while. Kentucky has played well. Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops comes from a great coaching bloodline and it is safe to assume that the team Florida lines up against in the Swamp on Saturday will be more talented than Eastern Michigan and will be very well coached. Everyone will have a better feel for just what kind of team Florida really is by late Saturday night. Continued improvement will be extremely important with a trip to Tuscaloosa looming on the horizon, but I think we can safely say that the first step was monumental.