The 2012 Florida Gators football season finally kicked off this Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gators defeated Bowling Green 27-14, and few in the Florida post-game interviews seemed excited about the 13-point win.
Following months of practice time out on the field and in the weight room, a vast improvement was expected from this team as compared to the 2011 version of the Gators.
While Florida football coach Will Muschamp’s players did eventually take care of business by getting the ‘W,’ a few position groups received much difference letter grades.
QUARTERBACKS — B
Jeff Driskel took all of the second half snaps and appears to have taken the lead in the quarterback battle. Still, Muschamp declined to name him the starter, saying the flow of the game fit Driskel’s scrambling skills better. Driskel showed his running ability and was efficient on the shorter pass routes he was asked to deliver. He worked at a nice tempo and managed the overall game well. Driskel was 10 of 16 passing for 114 yards and his first career touchdown pass. He also rushed three times for 31 yards. Brissett, who took the first snap of the game while Driskel was split wide, received far less of an opportunity to show off his skillset, but still completed 3 of 5 passes for 31 yards. Neither quarterback did anything wrong — no turnovers, especially — but neither did anything spectacular either.
RUNNING BACKS — A-
Excellent with the exception of an Omarius Hines fumble, which is why this group received an A-. Senior Mike Gillislee was superb in having his best day in a Gators uniform. He led the way with a career-high 148 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Mack Brown had a decent run as did Hines. True freshman Matt Jones rumbled for 17 yards on his first career carry, but tallied no yards total on his next two on consecutive attempts. On both second- and third-and-2, he failed to gain a yard and Muschamp pointed out how he needed to hit the hole to gain the first down instead of going for the home run in that situation. As the game progressed, it was obvious the coaching staff had the most faith in Gillislee to keep the game — and the ball — in the Gators’ hands. He finished with 24 carries, a load he likely won’t be able to shoulder during a 12-game regular season. In other words, the other running backs need to continue to step up.
RECEIVERS — C+
Frankie Hammond Jr. dropped a screen pass to open the second half and had two drops total. However, it was Hammond Jr. who made up for it on his own by producing the “big play” the receiving corps lacked last season. Hammond Jr. took a short pass and slid by a defender before bolting to the end zone for a 50-yard touchdown that accounted for nearly half of Driskel’s total passing yardage. Tight end Jordan Reed looked smooth, catching three passes for 33 yards, while Quinton Dunbar was formidable with three catches for 32 yards. There were drops, and other than Hammond Jr.’s touchdown, the longest completion went for 18 yards to Reed, who accounted for most of it after the catch. Florida didn’t throw deep much, so there wasn’t an opportunity for any big plays unless the receiver broke out for several yards after the catch. Speedster Andre Debose failed to record a reception although he was targeted on the one pass attempt of more than 30 yards by Brissett in the second quarter. In order to be more effective, the Gators will need to hit a couple of those longer pass plays each game, although Muschamp bla med himself for the conservative play calling.
OFFENSIVE LINE — C-
The offensive line’s inability to maintain its blocks likely led to the more mobile Driskel taking all of the second half snaps. When run blocking, the offensive line seemed to create enough seams for backs to run through. In fact, run blocking was solid throughout, even on the few plays in which the starters were subbed out. On the flip side, pass blocking was inconsistent. At times, quarterbacks had plenty of time to set up in the pocket to find an open receiver. Other times the pocket would quickly collapse and either force the quarterback to run or scramble to buy time. Both tackles Chaz Green and Xavier Nixon were two in particular who need to improve their lateral quickness. If Florida’s offensive line cannot plug holes in pass blocking quickly, it could be a long season when UF plays against defensive fronts much better than Bowling Green’s.
DEFENSIVE LINE — C
No sacks and little pressure was put on BGSU quarterback Matt Schilz. He relied on three-step drops and quick passes all game long, making it difficult for the Gators defense to get to him. However, Florida may not have brought as many different blitz packages as it normally would have. At least, Schilz wasn’t impressed with the ones he witnessed: “They didn’t bring many complicated blitzes.” Florida did have five stops for losses, including 1.5 by defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. There were three quarterback hurries, but just one by a defensive lineman in true freshman Dante Fowler Jr. Floyd led the group with four tackles while Fowler had three. The reason this group received a C is because it wasn’t able to force Bowling Green into changing up it’s game plan in any way. This group is supposed to be among the best in the Southeastern Conference, but it’s going to need to apply more pressure to opponents’ backfields than it did on Saturday before living up to that billing.
LINEBACKERS — C-
Linebackers consistently were beaten on quick slants over the middle. In fact, the Florida defense seemed to have a big gaping hole in it right in the middle of the field between the linebackers and safeties. It was something the Falcons clearly noticed as well, as they would hit a couple of quick sideline passes on first and second downs and then go back over the middle when they needed a big gain. Linebackers need to improve a lot in pass coverage, but were solid as usual against the run. Jon Bostic led the team with eight tackles.
SECONDARY — B
Cornerback Marcus Roberson shook his head while mentioning repeatedly how this group made a lot of mistakes it needed to correct. However, other than a coverage bust or two, the secondary wasn’t too terrible. In fact, this group may have outperformed the rest of the defense when breaking it down. Matt Elam played well when moving from safety to nickel while Cody Riggs was capable when stepping in to replace Elam in the nickel package, which was used often. Three of the team’s top four tacklers were defensive backs in Riggs, Josh Evans and Louchiez Purifoy, which can be attributed to the style of offense BGSU was running. Purifoy was beat on a couple of pass plays early, and others were at different times throughout the game, preventing this unit from earning a higher grade.
SPECIAL TEAMS — A-
Anytime special teams can create a turnover, this group’s going to get an A. That is, unless it coughs up one of its own in the same game it came up with one. Caleb Sturgis hit two of three field goal attempts, including his UF record sixth of 50-plus yards. Punter Kyle Christy dropped two inside the 20, including one that was downed by Hammond Jr. at the two-yard line. The star of this group was Andre Debose, who averaged 15 yards per punt return — including a 32-yarder — and 38 yards on his lone kickoff returne. There was a jailbreak on the first punt attempt of the game when BGSU rushed a pair of linebackers up the middle, resulting in the A-. They were barely touched and nearly blocked Christy’s attempt as BGSU was looking to steal some early momentum with a big special teams play.
COACHING — C
Lots of penalties, but can that be attributed to coaching or first-game jitters? One thing that may have been was game management, which seemed out of rhythm in the first half especially. Mushcamp mentioned in the postgame interview that he did not allow offensive coordinator Brent Pease to call the game completely on his own. Muschamp blamed himself for some conservative play calling, so it was interesting to hear the head coach and offensive coordinator weren’t quite in sync at times. There was the odd situation where Driskel replaced Brissett to pooch punt it just 15 yards. Then there was a delay of game penalty on an actual punt. It was fourth and 1 deep in BG territory, an obvious punting situation. However, the offense didn’t come off of the field until about 15 seconds into the 40-second play clock. The punt team did get set up with about 5-6 second remaining, but failed to get off the snap on time. Delay of game penalties are unacceptable and we’re certain that sequence will be reviewed and corrected immediately.
OVERALL — C+
Few fans, players or coaches expected the Gators to win by 13 points on Saturday. Most expected a blowout, not a game where the outcome was still in question in the fourth quarter. Florida didn’t look much better than it did a year ago, and at times, maybe even worse. Fans were led to believe this team was on the rise, especially after a solid showing in a 24-17 win against Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. The offense wasn’t head-and-shoulders better than it was a year ago. Neither was the defense for that matter. Late in the game, there were even a couple of boo birds that could be heard throughout the crowd, which was 4,000 less than last season’s opener, by the way. This was just the first game while running an offense the team has only been working on for less than eight months. Still, most everyone expected more fireworks than a couple of nice runs by Gillislee and a catch-and-run by Hammond Jr. There is plenty of room to improve, and the improvement needs to come quickly as the Gators’ next two games are on the always rocky SEC road.