Offensive optimism

The Florida offense didn't rewrite the record book or light up the scoreboard on Saturday. There were still usual growing pains, but the optimism was easy to sense when the Orange and Blue Debut came to a close in The Swamp. The up-tempo style of first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has rejuvenated a Florida offense that has been in search of it for three years.

The product on the field showed what Florida wants to do. The short passing game was in midseason form, using crossing routes across the middle of the field to create havoc for a defense and use confusion to get receivers open. Quarterback Jeff Driskel hit multiple receivers on that route, striking once for a touchdown on a 31-yard catch by Demarcus Robinson that wasn't in the air for more than five yards.

That's what Kurt Roper wants to create.

The talent at wide receiver is improved, mostly because of the growth shown by the a sophomore trio of Ahmad Fulwood, Robinson and Chris Thompson, and Saturday showed that. The growth of the offense at other position combined to give the Gators the optimistic spark they needed as they begin the long offseason.

"We're as good at wideout as we've been," Will Muschamp said. "We're as good at quality and depth at running back as we've been. Jeff's playing his best football. I think you take our five offensive lineman, I feel pretty good about where we are. We have to have some guys coming along in that group.

"This is probably the most complete offense we've had just from a playmaking standpoint and a depth standpoint, just not as much on the offensive line. We had more depth last year on the offensive line than we have right now. I think a lot of it is Kurt is a very positive guy and players have really fed off his confidence and energy. They have a true belief in what we're trying to do."

The two offenses combined for 606 yards on the day, with 388 of those coming through the air. Adam Lane and Mack Brown carried the load on the ground in a game that ended in a 23-23 tie. The 46 total points didn't match some of the gaudy numbers put up at other spring games across the country, but that didn't matter on Saturday. There was finally a sense of optimism around what the Gators are doing on the offense side of the football.

"I attribute a lot of that to Kurt Roper and an offensive staff and the job they've done," Muschamp said. "Our kids have been very receptive and they have confidence in what we're doing and I think it's a good fit. I really do, moving forward. Pleased with that."

LANE STANDS OUT: Lane finished the day with 12 carries for 64 yards. His tough running gave the Gators a different type of back. Kelvin Taylor, the first-team back all spring, only ran the ball four times before resting for the day, and it provided a chance for Lane to shine.

With Taylor entrenched in a job and Matt Jones expected back in the fall, there may not be a lot of extra carries for Brown and Lane. However, Muschamp was quick to point out that the offense has had its most success from a personnel grouping with two running backs and three receivers. That opens up another position for Lane to force his way on the field.

"Two backs in the game at the same time because it's about getting your best 11 out there," Muschamp said. "As those guys continue to improve, I think we could see that happening. The run game hasn't truly changed a lot. It's all from the gun but not a lot has changed from blocking schemes."

Lane showed on Saturday he deserves a chance. His bruising running style had Florida defenders gang-tackling and hoping to bring him to the ground. It didn't happen easily.

POSITION MOVE FOR BROWN: Trenton Brown spent the first half of spring at the tackle position before bouncing to guard last week. It sounded like that move will be permanent as the Gators search to get their best five linemen on the field at the same time.

With D.J. Humphries at left tackle and Chaz Green at right tackle, Brown slides into play right guard and moves Tyler Moore to left guard.

"You've got to get your best on the field," Muschamp said. "When you have a guy that height, you worry about putting him inside because of pad level, especially when you play some of those shorter stature defensive tackles, it's hard to get under their pads. He answered our questions pretty quickly that he can get his pads low and do what he needs to do when he wants to."

KICKING GAME BOOST: The second most important thing on Muschamp's list to accomplish this spring was improvement from the kickers. The first was obviously the offense, but after that showed some life on Saturday, his second choice did, too.

Austin Hardin went 4-4 on field goals, hitting from 43, 42, 35 and 24 yards. He missed one extra point, but Muschamp said it was caused by a bad snap. Producing on the practice field hasn't been an issue for Hardin. It simply hasn't transferred to games yet. That's why Saturday meant a lot, as he was able to have a strong day in front of a big crowd.

"I think he's just been more consistent with his plant foot, he's been more consistent with his swing motion of kicking through the ball, and more consistent with his follow through, falling forward," Muschamp said. "He's been more consistent with kicking the ball."


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