For the 100 or so fans in attendance during Florida’s “Orange and Blue Debut” on Saturday – as well as the legion of disappointed home viewers – the fervent thirst for a vertical display out of UF’s offense again went unquenched.
A plethora of injuries along the offensive line, as well as an undermanned receiver unit, contributed to yet another ho-hum affair for Florida’s air attack on Saturday.
For many fans, the Gators’ offensive act has grown tired, and at some point, it becomes harder to convince them that the passing game will be improved by the time the calendar flips to August.
But Will Muschamp delivered some good news for the swelling cluster of skeptics on Saturday … Florida’s passing game will indeed be improved this season.
“I think we’re going to have some natural improvements offensively because we’re a year older, a year in the system,” Muschamp said. “I think we’re going to be better up front offensively. It starts there … I think we’ll be improved at the receiver position, and I think Jeff’s going to be better.”
“We’ll continue to be able to put ourselves to spread the field and throw the football. We’ll be able to do that much more effectively in the fall, in my opinion.”
In the capper to spring, the passing offense remained as bland as it was in 2012. Matters weren’t helped up front, as Florida’s shorthanded line struggled to block the defense’s stout front seven. The abundance of pressure forced quarterback Jeff Driskel – along with backups Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg – to roll out quicker than they may have liked on several occasions.
The few passes completed on the day were familiar to Florida fans – quick dumps and short routes for minimal gains. Florida’s previous excuse for its inept passing game was a lack of natural born playmakers and/or a lack of bigger bodies, who could make show-stopping catches while simultaneously taking it in for a score.
Florida appeared to have filled the immense void by signing an impressive haul at the receiver position in February. Of the pass-catching collective, Georgia-native Demarcus Robinson excited fans the most, on film displaying the rare set of skills which had eluded the Florida roster for the past three seasons.
An added bonus to the Robinson signing was the fact that the 6-foot-3 blue-chipper would be enrolling early, thus making him eligible for spring practice. Besides a bothersome ankle sprain midway through spring, the report on Robinson had been all positive leading up to Saturday.
And even though Robinson didn’t get a chance to showcase his downfield prowess, the freshman did enough to prove that he is indeed unlike any receiver Florida has enjoyed in recent history from a physical standpoint.
In fact, Robinson provided fans with perhaps the day’s highlight catch — an athletic diving grab early in the afternoon. He may have only a handful of practices under his belt but Robinson has already made a big impression on many in the Florida program, including Driskel.
“He’s definitely got good ball skills and can go make a play in traffic,” Driskel said of Robinson. “You have to have something like that in order to win in this league … He’s definitely a big body … can kind of catch the ball when he’s in different body positions and different body angles and he’s a guy who can blow by.”
“He’s going to be a big-time player and he’s definitely going to show up next year.”
Robinson isn’t the only receiver on the roster who fielded praise from Muschamp and Driskel. Quinton Dunbar – who spent Saturday in a non-contact jersey due to a “shoulder situation” as Muschamp put it – has looked impressive by all accounts this spring. Another injured receiver on Saturday, Latroy Pittman, has enjoyed a ”good, productive spring.”
Muschamp named tight ends Kent Taylor, Colin Thompson and Clay Burton as potential difference makers this year, after also reminding fans of cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy’s anticipated role expansion on offense.
However, as usual, most eyes will be placed squarely on the guy throwing the passes this season. Driskel continues to say the right things off the field, but fans are hoping the talk will translate to an increasingly productive output this season. Like his coach, Driskel is optimistic when speaking of the offense’s fortunes in 2013.
“I think it will be a lot better,” Driskel said on Saturday. “We have more guys that can stretch the field. We have good team speed at the receiver position. Our line is blocking a lot better, and us quarterbacks knowing when we have the opportunity to launch the ball.”
The Gators are certainly aware of the chatter surrounding themand hope to dispel the notion that they are still vertically challenged this year.
Although Saturday provided an ideal platform for a season preview, the notoriously impatient Gator Nation will have to wait at least four more months before discovering the truth about the Gators’ ability to make plays downfield.
Just because the offense’s suggested improvement didn’t show this weekend, it doesn’t mean the group isn’t focused on turning the tide as quick as possible. Take for instance Driskel’s prompt response when asked what it will take for him to become a certified winner at Florida:
“Make more vertical plays … we’ve got to hit big plays in able to score touchdowns and we need to do that more.”
The Gators haven’t been able to do it for quite some time, and in the interim, have kept everyone guessing as to when it will change.
Perhaps it will be this season.
For real this time.