First of all, let’s not take anything away from a great win, the first of Jim McElwain’s tenure at Florida in the SEC and on the road. Kentucky has some nice players in places that they just haven’t had in the past and is a team that looks like they will be bowl eligible at the end of the year.
Still, this Florida offense is going to have more ‘not so fun’ moments than fun moments in the near future, and the gist of the issues lies along the offensive line. Winning the 29th game in a row against Kentucky is a great accomplishment, but there is a long row to hoe for this team on offense and special teams as well.
Florida was able to move to 3-0, the first start that good since 2012. They did that on a night where the offense netted just 245 yards. It usually isn’t going to be a good night when your quarterback leads the team in rushing yardage and maybe not one of those runs were called running plays for Will Grier. Grier had a career high 12 rushes for 61 yards and he scored one of the team’s two touchdowns on one of his improvised runs.
Penalties were an issue and set the team back several times. A couple of them were credited to true freshmen offensive linemen who had false starts in the contest.
That is just part of the problem up front. The bigger problems lie in pass protection and run blocking.
The main thing to remember here is that this is a talented bunch. These issues are not a matter of not having the talent to improve both protection and blocking, it’s a matter of these guys growing up and getting more physical and surer of themselves on the football field. That time isn’t here and now, but sometime down the road.
In the meantime, Grier, or whoever is quarterbacking at the time is going to be running for his life quite a bit. As we progress through the season the competition gets better, but these guys will get infinite better. And the running backs aren’t going to have as many holes now as they are further down the line and in future seasons.
There was a point in the game when both tackles were true freshmen (Martez Ivey and Fredrick Johnson) and the right guard as well (Tyler Jordan). The quarterback is a redshirt freshman and they are relying a great deal on true freshmen at running back and freshmen at tight end as well.
All of that youth can be taxing and it is. But, it will get better, exponentially better because where they are coming from.
In the meantime, they are going to have to try and coach around these issues and that isn’t easy.
Some are saying that this offensive staff and coaching looks a lot like we have seen in the last several years. The Gators were just 2 of 11 in 3rd down conversions. I would argue that one difference is a more aggressive style and Florida was also 2 for 2 on 4th down conversions. A year ago, they would have punted those fourth downs and relied on the defense to get it back.
The frustration with this right now is going to be with guys like Demarcus Robinson, Brandon Powell and even Kevin Taylor who really are sacrificing for the youth, but have to fight through it and understand it will get better.
And absolutely it’s not all on the offensive line. Special Teams are a big issue right now. The Field Goal unit seems to be a circus at this point. Brandon Powell is not a natural kick returner. The Gators have run into the kicker in consecutive weeks. Townsend seems to have one bad punt in him each night. Lots of improvements needed in those areas.
We saw flashes from Antonio Callaway as a punt returner. I would like to see him and Jordan Scarlett get a shot at returning kickoffs as well. Austin Hardin can boom the ball on kickoffs so those are fine.
Defense is for real…
The Gators defense totaled 6 sacks, their most since Oct. 4, 2014 at Tennessee. The Gators also had multiple interceptions (Hargreaves, Wilson) for the third time in its past five games
As I commented earlier in the week I thought the defensive line looked as good as I have seen in a long time against ECU a week ago, I thought they were even better against Kentucky. Kentucky had 115 yards rushing on the day, but 25 came on the last play of the first half and 33 on a QB scramble that should have been called back for a block in the back on Vernon Hargreaves.
Alex McCalister and Jon Bullard each had a pair of sacks, tying a career-high for McCalister and setting a new career high for Bullard. Yet, we also saw some huge plays from Bryan Cox and Caleb Brantley. McCalister and Bullard were huge the whole game.
Hargreaves by the way, recorded his third interception in three games and eighth of his career on UK’s first drive of the game.
I thought the linebackers were invisible in the first two series of the game when Kentucky was threatening, but Jarrad Davis totaled 10 tackles on the night, giving him double digits for the second-straight week. He and Morrison were everywhere from the second quarter on.
FINAL THOUGHTS: The defense can help carry this offense and unlike years past we should expect this offense to get better and it will. Given time in the pocket and with ease of mind that he will have time, Will Grier can make the throws necessary. Getting that push up front will make things much easier for Taylor Cronkrite, and Scarlett.
They need some personnel changes in special teams in my opinion, and I would expect them soon. I’m not sure who to use, but just imagine it will happen.
Florida started four sophomores (Sharpe, Riles, Dillard, and Powell) and three freshmen (Grier, Callaway, Cronkrite) on offense, went on the road and won their first SEC game of the year. They also played three other true freshmen (Jordan, Ivey, and Johnson) up front and Camrin Knight saw his first action at tight end as well. Sophomore tight end DeAndre Goolsby also played. There were others.
On defense freshman CeCe Jefferson and sophomore Caleb Brantley started and played well. Deiondre porter saw action as a true freshman, Duke Dawson a sophomore, Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor are sophomores.
You get the point. A lot of youth is being served and yet there are going to be some growing pains. It just feels good to come out on the right side of those growing pains.