Florida played eight scholarship true freshmen in the season opener, and Martez Ivey will push that number to nine freshmen playing when he returns. Jim McElwain has been clear since the spring that this is going to be a team that relies on a large number of first-year players. That was obvious early on Saturday.
Freshmen running backs Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett contributed 60 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground while offensive linemen Fred Johnson and Tyler Jordan helped out up front. On defense, CeCe Jefferson proved he could provide a pass rush as a true freshman and cornerback Chris Williamson got into the game to help the secondary.
“I told you there would be a lot of new faces for you guys to look up their jerseys numbers. I think you probably had to do that in some cases,” McElwain said with a grin. “I think the good thing was the game wasn’t too big for them. There some bright eyes coming out of that tunnel for some of these young guys, which should have been with that environment. But I thought they settled in and did some good things and yet there were a lot of correctable things they saw on video that can help us get better.”
Cronkrite and Scarlett both had their moments despite the inexperienced offensive line struggling to open holes on the ground. Cronkrite had two chances in the redzone, picking up nine yards on one of them before punching it into the end zone for a three-yard touchdown on the next carry. He showed power and lowered his shoulder to run over a defensive back on his way into the end zone.
Scarlett had eight carries for 34 yards, scoring his touchdown in the middle of the fourth quarter from four yards out.
“I thought we had some pretty good players going in with those two guys,” McElwain said. “I think they’ll do a great job as we kind of go throughout the season. As you know, that position takes some hits.”
Antonio Callaway earned the start in his first collegiate game and ended it with three catches for 26 yards and one rush for eight yard. The highlight came on a 23-yard grab from Will Grier where the freshman was tackled at the four-yard line. It was clear the Florida offense wanted to get him involved, throwing wide receiver screens and using him on end arounds to get the ball in his hands different ways.
Callaway showed enough in practice that the coaches felt like he deserved to have a big role right away.
"He deserved that start because he’s a guy who proved that he made explosive plays,” McElwain said. “He did what was right, the attention to detail. He caught the ball. This is a guy that’s going to be a good player for a long time for us. I’m sure glad he’s a Gator. He helps us."