A win is a win is a win. Florida Gators fans may need to remind themselves of that a lot this season. The Gators did get the win. Florida DID extend the winning streak over Kentucky to 29 games. Was it pretty? Nope. Did it leave as many questions as it did answers? Yep. Will this kind of play be enough as the Gators proceed through their conference schedule? Absolutely not. This football team has some glaring issues and I think most of them revolve around the same single factor.
What went well: The Gator defense continues to be dominant for large stretches of football games. Overall the Gators held Kentucky to 241 yards of total offense and while that isn’t complete domination, it should be sufficient most weeks for a victory. Kentucky’s touted quarterback Patrick Towles was held to just 8 of 24 passing for a mere 126 yards and -8 yards rushing with sacks included. The 115 yards rushing by the Wildcats isn’t horrible but it did allow them to keep their offense on the field more and it is a slight concern with some of the running games looming on Florida’s horizon. But, the defense was once again stellar for the Gators. Florida wanted to get more pressure on the opposing quarterbacks and with six sacks against Kentucky, the Gators accomplished that task.
It is a little harder to find positives about the offense. The Gators had one less yard passing and only five more yards rushing than their counterparts. Just a single turnover is a good sign and that one could have been avoided had the ball been thrown a little farther toward the back corner of the end zone. Hopefully, that is a mistake the young quarterback won’t make twice.
What went wrong: The offensive line is just not good at this point. There is no way to sugarcoat this fact. Unless Mike Summers gets his charges to improve dramatically and quickly, the next few weeks are going to be brutal. So far the Gators have played three of the weakest six teams on their schedule and the offensive line has not fared well at all. There are virtually no running lanes. Ever. Pass protection is a little better at times but breaks down badly at times as well. I shudder to think what will happen when this group lines up against some of the defensive fronts Florida will face over the next five games.
The running game is horrid. The running backs averaged less than 2.6 yards per carry. That just isn’t going to get the job done. Of course, this particular stat is more about the offensive line than it is the backs themselves. It would be nice to occasionally get beyond the line of scrimmage before first contact. However, nobody has step up yet in the Gator backfield and established themselves as an elite back either. The lack of a real running threat is making it more difficult to orchestrate the passing game as well. There is no need to cheat your safeties up to stop the Gator running game at this point. It stops itself.
Special teams is also a concern. The punting game is quite solid. The placekicking is scary at best. And, there just isn’t enough production in the kick return game. I would have expected Brandon Powell to be a much bigger threat in open space than he as shown so far in the return game. One has to wonder if Antonio Callaway might end up back there on kickoffs as well as punts if Powell doesn’t start providing better field position for the Gators.
Where does that leave Florida: While it is really nice to be 3-0, this stat is going to take a big hit very soon if some issues are not worked out. The quarterback competition seems to be at least partially settled for now, but Will Grier wasn’t exactly spectacular Saturday night. His passing number were just as pedestrian as Towles’ but his running made a real difference in the game. What can be said for Grier is that he gutted out a big win on the road against an improved Kentucky team with little help from his running game or line. He showed leadership skills by not only getting back up and staying on the field after getting banged up but making a critical run for a first down where he offered up his body to gain those last few yards instead of sliding to avoid the hit. I believe Grier will continue to get more comfortable and more confident each week and his upside is tremendous but I have to admit there were times when I was expecting to see Treon Harris come out in that game. I do not know where this leaves the quarterback battle at this point. Nor do I know how Harris will respond if it’s mostly Grier going forward. But, I believe that both quarterbacks will play meaningful downs the rest of the way and that the Gators will desperately need both before this season is over. I hope Treon prepares each week as if he was the starter because he probably will be at some point.
Defensively I think this team can limit every offense they face this season to less than their average yardage and points. The question is whether or not that will be enough while the offense struggles to catch up. Against teams like LSU and Georgia, Florida may be able stack the line, hold those great running backs at least somewhat in check and force the opposition to beat them through the air. That is the luxury provided by having the best secondary in the country. That might be just enough if the offense can improve each week.
But, again this all comes down to the offensive line. Florida went with a pair of true freshmen at tackle against Kentucky. The next five opponents will be better suited to take advantage of that youth and inexperience than anything the Gators have seen thus far. I know the whole O-Line thing sounds like a broken record but it really is the one unit standing between Florida and a chance to challenge for the SEC East. I stand by my assessment that 8-4 is a feasible regular season record but it should be considered a huge accomplishment under the circumstances. For now, 3-0 is 3-0 and the best thing about being 3-0 is that you can get to 4-0.