Spring games are always fake football, but as Dan Mullen described during and after the proceedings, this year’s Orange and Blue game was faker than normal. The defense was limited in how much it could do, so the offenses largely romped. There isn’t much to take away from this one, especially since I saw some defenders pulling up before making plays on guys who weren’t even in non-contact jerseys (to avoid injuries, undoubtedly).
There are a few takeaways, some from the takeaways. Kyle Trask and Emory Jones weren’t as decisive as Feleipe Franks. Their interceptions came on late throws, while Franks’s pick was a stunt to let Lito Sheppard have some fun. Franks’s two incompletions on the first drive were rough, as a couple of defenders including a walk on corner made easy plays on his throws. Those tosses aside, the game showed what all the beat writers have been talking about regarding Franks appearing to be the most comfortable in the offense.
We also saw just how important health on the offensive line is. The early enrollees had varying degrees of success, but it was startling how much the veteran defenders abused Michael Tarquin at right tackle for the Blue team. There was a sequence in Jones’s first drive where Luke Ancrum got a pass breakup by driving him backwards, and then on the next play Jonathan Greenard did a basic and not even particularly fast spin move to get right past him.
Tarquin should be a high school senior right now, as Mullen is fond of saying of all the early enrollees, and offensive line is one of the tougher positions to play right away on the college level. He needs some time, which is fine and normal. You really, really don’t want to see Tarquin out there this year, though. Between Richard Gouraige and, if he can get healthy again, Noah Banks, Florida has two reserve tackles.
If it gets dire at tackle and a true freshman has to play somewhere, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chris Bleich moved outside since he played that position in high school and Kingsley Eguakun lands in the middle somewhere. Eguakun is the backup center right now with Griffin McDowell out, and he is the most ready among the four early enrollees. We’ll see what the three fall enrollees look like.
Mullen clearly hopes it won’t come to that. He mentioned after the game that he’d love to pick up a graduate transfer on the OL, this despite already being at the NCAA’s roster limit. Only he knows how he plans to fit an 86th scholarship player onto the roster right now.
It was hard not to come away impressed with the skill position players, though. Ball distribution is going to be a challenge, as I’ve broken down earlier this offseason.
I am now trying to decide whether this is a situation like 2006 or 2008.
The 2006 team had one of the deepest and most balanced receiving corps UF has had. There was a top five, and they did almost everything. Dallas Baker and Bubba Caldwell sat above the others at 60 and 57 receptions respectively, but Jemalle Cornelius, Percy Harvin, and Cornelius Ingram each had between 30 and 34 catches.
I could see this fall working out similarly to that. Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes might make a top two with Kadarius Toney, Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland, and Kyle Pitts a roughly even second tier. Jefferson was Franks’s favorite target a year ago, and Grimes looks poised for a breakout.
But then there’s 2008. Harvin, Louis Murphy, and Aaron Hernandez were a clear top three with anywhere from 34 to 40 receptions each. After them six players had between 11 and 18 catches, including two running backs.
That model might also fit. Jefferson, Grimes, and the freaky athletic Pitts could be your top tier with Toney, Hammond, Swain, Cleveland, Lamical Perine, and Malik Davis as the next tier. There will be more receptions to go around since Tim Tebow and his backups completed only a combined 201 passes in all of the ’08 season whereas UF had 217 last year. That figure should go up this fall due to Franks improving his completion percentage some noticeable amount alone.
Of course, this still leaves Lucas Krull, Kemore Gamble, and if he gets healthy Jacob Copeland. And then you still need to feed Perine, Davis, Dameon Pierce, Franks, Toney, and Jones on the ground. The best remedy would be to pick up the pace on offense to have more plays to work with. The Gators ran 890 plays in 13 games last year. Mullen’s high in Starkville was 1,001 plays in 13 games in 2014. Getting an extra 111 snaps to work with would be useful.
In all, no one got hurt, everyone except maybe some of the defensive players and coaches had fun, and the Gators picked up a 2020 H-back who committed to UF over FSU and Auburn. Given that no serious football was going on, it’s hard to argue for more than that.