The Florida Gators proved to be a completely renewed team in the first game of the 2018 season as they defeated Charleston Southern 53-6. There were plenty of storylines to take away from the night, but a few really turned our heads.
1. Pierce is a bad man
Jordan Scarlett started the game at running back for the Gators, but Dameon Pierce finished it, and he finished it well.
Even while running behind the deepest depths of the depth chart, Pierce managed to put up 75 yards on just eight carries for an average of 9.4 yards per rush. A 27-yard pick up on the first touch of his career gave a glimpse into the kind of player he could be for Florida in the coming years.
Those stats were good enough to lead the team by a wide margin. Malik Davis finished next behind him with 38 rushing yards, while Lamical Perine had 28 yards on only two carries and Jordan Scarlett didn’t exactly light it up with just 24 yards on six carries.
With so much depth in the backfield, the expectation going into the game was that the Gators would try to run it down CSU’s throat. Instead, it ended up being a pass-heavy night. And to be fair, the lack of push from the offensive line had a lot to do with that.
It is hard to imagine the Gators not utilizing Pierce before the second half in next week’s game after the performance he gave in his debut. Not only did he put on a show with the ball in his hands, but he laid down a monster hit on special teams as well. The man is built like a truck, and he plays that way.
2. Special teams is back in business
It’s 2008. The Gators are up by five touchdowns, and it’s not even halftime. They block a field goal attempt to keep the shut out alive. The crowd goes wild. Oh wait, actually, it’s 2018.
Dan Mullen has talked non-stop about making special teams a priority since he arrived at Florida, but it is hard to believe the difference only a few months have made. From players going crazy on the sideline before each and every kickoff to scoring points (and not from a field goal) on special teams, it became clear exactly the kind of impact this coaching staff has made in such a short time.
The first big impression of it came on that previously mentioned blocked field goal. The players were hyping up the crowd when they came on the field, and for whatever reason, there was almost a feeling in the air that something special was about to take place.
Zach Carter came in and got a paw on it to keep the Buccaneers off the scoreboard. In that moment, all was right in the Florida football world again.
While CSU eventually scored late, it didn’t happen without another positive coming on special teams for Florida. This time, Jeremiah Moon blocked the extra point attempt and walk on Austin Perry took it back the other way for two points to cap off the 53-point night for the Gators.
Along with the exciting plays, Florida’s field goal kickers did their jobs for a perfect 3-for-3 night. Even McPherson made both of his attempts from 21 and 31 yards, and Jorge Powell hit a 39-yarder later on.
Florida is not here to play around on special teams any longer. More plays like those throughout the year would make this a fun team to watch.
3. Franks really did improve
There were a lot of questions around Feleipe Franks coming into this season. He was always the perceived favorite to win the starting job, but his play throughout his freshman season left more than a few doubts.
While Florida didn’t exactly play a powerhouse in its first game, Franks came out and proved everything he needed to. He showed better decision-making, accuracy in the pass game and toughness both mentally and physically.
Franks only played in the first half before Kyle Trask and Emory Jones replaced him to close things out. It’s been a while since Florida has had that luxury.
But there was no reason to risk an injury in the second half after he completed 16-of-24 pass attempts for 219 yards and five touchdown passes to four different receivers. He also tacked on five runs for 34 yards.
There is still a lot more to learn about Franks and how he will handle the pressure of a big game in the new offense, but he has made obvious strides, and the new offense along with the pieces around him will help him find more success in his redshirt sophomore season.