A few thoughts to jump start your Sunday morning.
GOOD BEGINNING, BUT NOW THE HARD PART BEGINS
If what we saw Saturday in The Swamp is indicative of the kind of offense the Gators are going to have in 2014, then there is reason to feel confident that this Florida football team is going to bounce back from last year’s horrendous 4-8 season. By showing the kind of flexibility to not only hire Kurt Roper and Mike Summers to do a total makeover of the offensive unit, Will Muschamp has shown he’s a pragmatist who is willing to look in the mirror and understand there are times when what you’re doing isn’t working and changes are required. Of course, spring football is the easy part. The hard part begins now because Muschamp and his staff won’t know for 3-1/2 months just how much of the spring momentum will carry over into August when the Gators start practicing in earnest for their season opener. This is the time of the year when leadership and maturity have to take over but if the Gators can put together a good summer of hard work, there is good reason to be optimistic about 2014.
THE MOST IMPRESSIVE NUMBER
While 606 yards of total offense is certainly a hint that things are going to be better in the fall, the best number of the day for the Orange and Blue Debut is two – as in only two offensive penalties and neither one was a hold. They were both false starts but even those can be excused. One of them was on Antonio Riles, who was only moved to the offensive line a couple of weeks ago, and the other was on Kavaris Harkless, who should be picking out the tux he’s going to wear to his Senior Prom but instead has been sweating it out in spring football in Gainesville. Yes, it’s just spring practice and yes, the offensive line was going up against guys they’ve been seeing every day for the past three weeks, but this was the best this group has looked in spring practice since 2009. It is quite obvious that Mike Summers is getting the job done in this very critical area that really has underperformed the last three seasons.
SPREADING THE WEALTH
I was quite impressed with the way the ball got spread around. It’s obvious that Kurt Roper truly believes you have to make the other team defend the entire field and every single skill player, which is refreshing. Last season, in particular, the offense was far too predictable and defenses practically ignored the tight ends, H-backs and fullbacks. Jeff Driskel completed 19 passes to nine different receivers. Skyler Mornhinweg and Will Grier completed 22 passes to 12 different receivers. Breaking it down even further, Driskel completed passes to five different wide receivers, three running backs and one tight end. Mornhinweg and Grier completed passes to nine different wide receivers, two tight ends and one running back. That kind of production does two things and both are positive: (1) It makes opponents understand they’re going to have to cover everybody in the passing game which means fewer double teams, and (2) it keeps all the eligible receivers on their toes because they know any time they step on the field the ball could be coming their way.
SKYLER, IS THAT YOU?
Excuse me, but was that Skyler Mornhinweg or a cleverly disguised impersonator going 14-18 for 149 yards and two touchdowns while directing the Orange offense. He looked like the same old Skyler Mornhinweg when he ran the ball although he did net seven positive yards, but there was a marked difference in the way he threw the ball than those last couple of games in 2013. Now, some of what happened in 2013 could be attributed to being thrown to the wolves after languishing on the bench until the guys in front of him went down, but whether he had the shakes last year or not, he certainly looked much more confident than at any time last year. There is reason to believe that if Skyler continues to develop in the offseason that the Gators won’t have to worry about a true freshman backing up Driskel. And, if Mornhinweg is solid, it will be possible for either Grier or Treon Harris to take a needed redshirt.
SPLITTING THE UPRIGHTS
One of the most encouraging things about the spring game was seeing Austin Hardin kick as many field goals in one afternoon as he had all of last year. Hardin was 4-12 last season when his longest field goal was 33 yards and he didn’t make a field goal after the Kentucky game. So, watching him go 4-4 Saturday with kicks of 43, 42, 35 and 24 yards was something very positive to take away from the spring. It’s always best when offenses are scoring touchdowns – remember the old Steve Spurrier line, “We don’t kick a lot of field goals around here”? – but these days and times you better have someone capable of putting three points on the board any time you reach the opponent’s 30-yard line.
FLORIDA SPORTS ROUNDUP
Justin Shafer hit a sacrifice fly in the top of the 13th for the go-ahead run, then got the final two outs in the bottom half to pick up the save as #13 Florida (22-13, 8-6 SEC) evened its series with 4th-ranked South Carolina (28-6, 8-6 SEC), 4-3, in Columbia. The Gators trailed, 3-0, after five innings, but rallied for two in the eighth on an RBI double by A.J. Puk and a run-scoring single by Richie Martin, then tied the game in the ninth on a sacrifice fly by Casey Turgeon. Puk picked up the win, pitching 3-1/3 innings of relief as the Gators moved into a first place tie with South Carolina in the SEC East … In softball, the 6th-ranked Gators (37-8) won their sixth straight game with a 10-0 run-rule win over North Carolina State. Hannah Rogers (18-6) got the win, pitching four innings of 2-hit, shutout ball. Briana Little homered and drove in three runs while Lauren Haeger drove in three with a single and a double. Haeger also pitched a scoreless fifth inning.
MASTERS DAY THREE
When he eagled the second hole to go 8-under, Bubba Watson was ready to run away from the field. Then he got a classic case of the yips and started leaving everything short on the greens. Instead of extending the 3-stroke lead he brought into Saturday’s third round, he’s had to hole a putt on the 18th just to stay even with 20-year-old Jordan Speighth at -5. If you believe in precedents and history, go with Speith to win in his first try at Augusta National. History says the golfers that come in under par their first three rounds wear a green jacket on Sunday. Keep an eye on Matt Kuchar, who’s at -4. He’s like Lee Westwood (-2), in that category of “great golfers who never won a major.”
UPDATE OF THE DAY
From Ken Clarke, a very fine sports writer in his day when we were on Ray Holliman’s staff at Today and helping the Typos break their multi-season losing streak, comes this update regarding a question I raised last week about coaching salaries then and now: “Bear Bryant’s salary of $15,000 in 1954 equates to something like $131,000 today. Not bad pay, for sure, but not close to what contemporary coaches earn. Ray Graves’ $19,000 in ’60 comes to $151,000, and the $75,000 that Charley Pell earned in ’79 comes to 270,000 in today’s dollars. Figures come from the Consumer Price Index’s inflation calculator. Just for fun.”
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Today’s question comes from William Norris: How far do you see Gator Basketball going next year? Could they possibly make an unexpected championship run like in 2006?
Depending on who comes back at Kentucky, the Gators could be favored to win the SEC for the third straight year in 2014-15. If the Harrison twins and Willie Cauley-Stein come back, Kentucky will definitely be favored and most of the experts will have them in the Final Four. That being said, Florida is going to be very, very good no matter who comes back at UK, but if the twins and Cauley-Stein are gone, the Gators will be the clearcut favorite to win the SEC. The Gators are going to have more size and depth on the inside and they could actually be a better team on the perimeter. I think Chris Walker will develop into a monster. I think Kasey Hill will be the fastest point in the SEC. I think Eli Carter will give the Gators a scorer opposite Michael Frazier II who can light it up on the outside. I also think Dorian Finney-Smith will improve his shot and I like the outside game that the Gators will get from incoming freshman Devin Robinson and Duke transfer Alex Murphy, who isn’t the long distance shooter brother Erik was but he’s a better mid-range scorer and doesn’t mind banging inside for points. Can they make a surprise run for the NCAA title? That’s going to depend on team chemistry and leadership.
Each day one question will be chosen as Question for Today. Submit your question to: firstname.lastname@example.org
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Buddy Guy has been blowing people away with his funky style of blues since the 1960s when he played in Muddy Waters’ band. He’s 78 years old and still doing a full tour schedule. He will be playing at Montreux this summer with the Tedeschi Trucks Band in what should be as good a concert as there will be this summer. Buddy came out with an album called “Bring ‘Em In” in 2006 on which 11 of the 12 songs were written and first performed by other people. The best song on the album, however, is the only one he wrote, called “What Kind of Woman Is This.” I found this very long version of the song that Buddy did with John Mayer.