On the night the University of Florida officially recognized Steve Spurrier by naming The Swamp ‘Steve Spurrier-Florida Field’, the Gators’ play in the 2016 opener was anything but reminiscent of when the Head Ball Coach was gracing the sideline.
Florida, a 36-point favorite coming in, battled their way to an unimpressive 24-7 win over UMass. Heading to the fourth quarter, the score was 10-7, and fans were restless. This was a game that was supposed to be well in hand before halftime hit. Instead, clear indications arose that this is a team with issues that still need fixing.
How It Happened
As expected, the majority of the glaring issues were on the offensive side of the ball. The offense just seemed like they couldn’t get the wheels moving all night. Too many drives stalled against what should have been a far inferior opponent.
The biggest problem was the offensive line. Coming in to the season, it was no secret the o-line was a huge question mark. The deficiencies showed far too often Saturday night. Breakdowns in protection in both the passing and running games halted many chances for Florida to get any rhythm going offensively. Holding calls were also prevalent, and ruined many solid plays the team did get.
Luke Del Rio looked okay in his first start for the Gators, throwing for 256 yards and two touchdowns, but all night he seemed hesitant to throw the ball downfield. Instead, he settled for check downs and small yardage throws. I don’t know how much of that was him really trying to limit mistakes and turnovers, but not many shots down the field were taken.
While the inconsistency of the o-line halted production from the run game, Sophomore back Jordan Scarlett had a nice evening, rushing for 70 yards on 13 carries. He is a tough and hard-nosed runner, and for the moment, has certainly planted himself as the lead tailback going forward.
Despite a second quarter touchdown drive for UMass that was heavily aided by dumb penalties by Florida, the Gator defense did what was expected. They held the Minutemen to 187 yards of total offense.
With cornerback Teez Tabor out due to a suspension, the secondary got beat a few times over the top, mostly when UMass targeted Chris Williamson, who was getting significant playing time because of Tabor’s absence. But other than that, the defense really showed their teeth.
Linebackers Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone were all over the field making plays all night. UMass had no answer for Anzalone when he rushed on delayed blitzes.
Kicker Eddy Pineiro was another bright spot, as he showed he is the real deal. He drilled all three of his field goals right down the middle, with his longest coming from 49 yards.
So while it was an inexcusably lackluster opening act by Florida, I’m not ready to sound the alarms just yet. Besides the obvious need to cut down on the mental mistakes, and for the offensive line play to improve and provide consistency, I think the Gators will really need to open up the offense. I don’t know if it was Jim McElwain’s plan to keep the offense manila and wait to really open up the playbook against a stronger opponent, but going forward explosive plays will be needed, and Luke Del Rio will have to learn to take shots down the field.
The next opportunity comes at home against Kentucky, who gave up 44 points in a losing effort to Southern Miss in their opener. We should learn a lot more about this team come Saturday.