Forget that it was New Mexico State. Who it was is irrelevant. What is relevant is that Jim McElwain and his staff showed the offensive creativity that has been vacationing on a secluded beach at Praia do Forte the last four years. It’s also relevant that the Gators nearly made it an entire football game without a single penalty. Those two things alone should have Florida football fans feeling warm and fuzzy for the first time in a long, long time.
What might stand out more than the 61 points and 606 yards was the fact that for the first time since perhaps 2008 the offense was unpredictable. What a concept that is, the fact that you can’t watch the Gators break the huddle and predict with 90% certainty whether they’re going to run or throw and who’s likely to have the football in his hands when the whistle blows the play dead. Think about this for a moment: Opposing defensive coordinators might actually have to keep the lights burning until midnight or later for a change because their game plans might require a level of complexity that wasn’t necessary the last four years.
As if you need evidence that the offense has changed dramatically, take a look at the receiving stats of the tight ends. In 2014, Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook caught a combined 26 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns. That’s an average of 9.1 yards per catch. That was stark improvement to 2013 when Florida’s tight ends combined to catch four passes for 42 yards. C’yontai Lewis (2-44, 2 TDs), DeAndre Goolsby (3-38) and Jake McGee (2-18) combined for seven catches and 90 yards Saturday night, which is nearly a fourth of the entire passing production and half the passing touchdowns Saturday night. That Lewis, Goolsby and McGee combined to average 12.9 yards per catch is also an indicator that UF’s quarterbacks aren’t afraid to throw a pass to a tight end on the move.
It also says something that McElwain didn’t shy away from throwing the football down the field even with so much inexperience on the offensive line. Conventional wisdom is that the passing game would be an extension of the running game – short, quick passes where the ball is rarely in the air more than 5-8 yards. To neutralize the inexperience, the offense employed wide splits in the line, multiple formations and just enough movement to provide Will Grier and Treon Harris with precious seconds of indecision and hesitation by defenders. That old adage of “he who hesitates is lost” came to mind many times because the New Mexico State defenders were frozen in their tracks trying to decipher what was coming their way.
And then there was discipline, evidenced by only one penalty late in the game and that was for an illegal block in the back on special teams. There wasn’t one false start or delay of game penalty. Even with all the shifting and the multiple formations, there wasn’t even one illegal formation call. There were no hits to the head and no late hits on the quarterback and none of the D-linemen jumped offside.
Simply put, the Gators took McElwain’s promise quite seriously: cost the team yards by your lack of discipline and you’ll find yourself riding the pine.
You have to go back to Vanderbilt (false start for five yards) in 2010 to find a game in which the Gators were flagged for only one penalty. The last time the Gators went an entire game without a penalty was Homecoming against The Citadel in 2008.
While this is just one game against a team willing to take a beating for a paycheck, these are positive signs that things are heading in the right direction offensively.
1. #3 Alabama (1-0): Reports of a quarterback controversy are greatly exaggerated. Jacob Coker is the man (15-21, 213 yards, 1 TD). It should also be fairly obvious that the folks who three years ago predicted Derrick Henry would have to switch to tight end because he was too big to play running back have no clue. If I’m picking a running back not named Ezekiel Elliott or Nick Chubb, Henry’s my guy.
Next week: Middle Tennessee (1-0)
2. Texas A&M (1-0, 0-0 SEC): Be very afraid. For the past three years we’ve worried what might happen if the Aggies ever get a defense. That day has arrived. Arizona State’s very talented offense got stuffed consistently by the Aggies. Remember the name Christian Kirk. He could be the next Percy.
Next week: Ball State (1-0)
3. #18 Arkansas (1-0, 0-0 SEC): The Hogs can run. Check. The Hogs can play defense. Check. The Hogs can throw? Yes they can. Brandon Allen threw for 308 yards and four touchdowns. This is why Dan Enois was hired as the OC.
Next week: Toledo (0-0) in Little Rock
4. #9 Georgia (1-0, 0-0 SEC): Greyson Lambert (8-12, 141 yards, 2 TDs) did his best Hutson Mason imitation which is to say he’s not going to lose games for the Bulldogs but he won’t win them either. The guys who will win games are those offensive linemen who block for Nick Chubb (120 yards, 2 TDs), Keith Marshall (73 yards, 2 TDs) and Sony Michel (41 yards rushing, 79 receiving).
Next week: at Vanderbilt (0-1)
5. #6 Auburn: If the Louisville game is indicative of what we can expect this season from Jeremy Johnson (11-21, 131, 3 picks) then Auburn is in trouble. The defense is better under Will Muschamp but national championship better? It didn’t look like it against Louisville.
Next week: Jacksonville State
6. #17 Ole Miss (1-0, 0-0 SEC): Maybe it was a gimmick we won’t ever see again, but when you run a wheel route with your 6-4, 300-pound defensive tackle and he catches the ball, turns upfield and sprints to the end zone like he’s been there and done that, it’s pretty damned impressive. Let’s see what these guys can do against a Division I opponent.
Next week: Fresno State (1-0)
7. #14 LSU: Lightning cancelled game one so we have to wait a week to see how they’ve improved the offense to open things up for Leonard Fournette.
Next week: at Mississippi State (1-0)
8. Florida (1-0, 0-0 SEC): The Gators held New Mexico State without a first down and to -1 yards in the second half. That’s impressive even if you are playing an all-star team from the convent flag football league.
Next week: East Carolina (1-0)
9. #24 Missouri (1-0, 0-0 SEC): Injuries to tailback Russell Hansbrough and center Evan Boehm have head coach Gary Pinkel even more concerned than the budding quarterback controversy between Maty Mauk (blah) and freshman Drew Lock (impressive). Without Hansbrough and Boehm the Tigers ran for only 98 yards on a bad D1AA defense.
Next week: at Arkansas State (1-0)
10. Tennessee (1-0, 0-0 SEC): The Vols scored 59 points, ran for 399 yards and totaled 604 yards. The defense gave up 30 points, 557 yards and 433 passing yards to Bowling Green. The Vols might have to win a bunch of shooting matches this year starting Saturday with Oklahoma, which is a whole lot better than Bowling Green.
Next week: Oklahoma (1-0)
11. South Carolina (1-0, 0-0 SEC): Until he can figure out the quarterback situation, Steve Spurrier is going to have to do it with smoke and mirrors, just like he did against North Carolina. The defense is improved from last year but there was no place to go but up after last year’s rock bottom.
Next week: Kentucky (1-0)
12. Mississippi State (1-0): The Bulldogs struggled with Southern Miss. That’s not exactly a prelude for good things coming, particularly when LSU is coming to town. Dak Prescott threw for 237 yards and two TDs and ran for 72 and one other TD.
Next week: LSU (0-0)
13. Kentucky (1-0): Kentucky blew a 33-10 lead and then had to rally to beat a Sun Belt Conference team in the closing seconds. This does not bode well for the Wildcats when they play SEC teams.
Next week: at South Carolina (1-0)
14. Vanderbilt (0-1, 0-0 SEC): The Commodores are going to struggle to win three games this year. If one of the three isn’t an SEC game then Derek Mason is in deepest and darkest.
Next week: Georgia (1-0)
One of the constant themes in all the national magazines is the demise of the Southeastern Conference. Oh really? The SEC was 13-1 against non-conference opponents and 4-0 against teams from Power 5 schools. No other conference was even close. Here is the breakdown conference by conference of the Power 5:
Vs. Power 5: 4-0
Vs. Division I: 10-1
Vs. Division IAA: 2-0
ACC (10-3) *
Vs. Power 5: 0-3 *
Vs. Division I: 3-3
Vs. Division IAA: 7-0
* Virginia Tech plays Ohio State tonight
Big Ten (7-6) *
Vs. Power 5: 1-3 *
Vs. Division I: 3-6
Vs. Division IAA: 4-0
* Ohio State plays Virginia Tech tonight
Big 12 (8-2)
Vs. Power 5: 1-1
Vs. Division I: 5-1
Vs. Division IAA: 3-1
Pac 12 (8-4)
Vs. Power 5: 2-2
Vs. Division I: 5-3
Vs. Division IAA: 3-1
And then there was all that talk about how the Pac-12 had surpassed the SEC. Oh really? The Pac-12 went 2-2 against the Power 5, suffered a loss to a Mountain West team (Washington lost to Boise State) and took a hit to a team from D1AA (Portland State beat Washington State). Additionally, the Pac-12’s showcase program – Oregon – gave up 46 points and 549 yards to D1AA Eastern Washington.
For all the hype and all the speed and skill athletes, the Pac-12 doesn’t have the people in the trenches on either side of the football. It’s still a game decided by the size, strength and agility of the big uglies and the Pac-12 is still a finesse league that is long on aesthetics but lacks the tough guys that define the SEC.
1. Stanford: That game against Northwestern is a sign of things to come. David Shaw doesn’t have those Harbaugh recruits to coach up anymore.
2. Auburn: Jeremy Johnson is not Nick Marshall and while the defense is better than it was last year, it’s still got a way to go before anyone would dare call it good.
3. Oregon: The Ducks gave up 46 points and 549 yards to Eastern Washington. They can score but they still can’t defend.
4. Penn State: Penn State’s quarterback was sacked 10 times by Shirley Temple. Just wait until they face the Buckeyes.
5. Tennessee: The Vols will have to outscore people this year. That defense does a magnificent impression of a sieve.
Unless something drastic changes, Tim Tebow’s dream of playing quarterback in the NFL is over. Chip Kelly and the Eagles were the last logical chance so when the Chipster says Tebow “isn’t good enough” to back up Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez, then it’s a fairly good sign the window of opportunity has come and gone. Fortunately, Tebow showed plenty of promise in the booth with the SEC Network so he’ll do well with a day job.
Former LSU All-American Patrick Peterson, now a Pro Bowl corner for the Arizona Cardinals, donated $1 million to LSU, which will name the weight room after him. You would think more professional athletes who make millions would write checks to the schools that gave them their foundation for future success.
You have to feel for BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, whose 2015 season ended in game one when he broke a foot against Nebraska. This is the third straight year that Hill has suffered a season-ending injury.
What is the biggest positive you take from Florida’s season opening win over New Mexico State? The biggest negative?
One of my favorite musical discoveries of the past three years is the vocal duo Johnnyswim, which consists of Jacksonville’s Abner Ramirez and his wife Amanda Sudano, whose mom is disco diva Donna Summer. They are prolific songwriters who have started getting more notice after appearances on Jay Leno, Letterman and Live from Daryl’s House. Today’s music is their 2012 album “Diamonds.”