Spring has sprung and we have no more football until August but here are a few observations from Friday night’s orange and blue game.
1. A decisive QB with a quick release: What a concept! Luke Del Rio showed that he sees the entire field and once he finds his target he gets rid of the football. After reliving the last eight games of 2015 in my mind a dozen times, seeing a QB who (a) sees the field, (b) knows where to find his receivers and (c) unloads the ball without any wasted motion was a sight for sore eyes. Now I understand why several former Gators who had practice access last year raved about Del Rio and said that even when Will Grier was at his best, Del Rio was the best QB on the roster.
2. By August Appleby will be a whole lot better: Although he didn’t put up great stats, I saw enough of Austin Appleby to know that he’ll be a whole lot better by the time August rolls around. Luke Del Rio has been around this offense for three years so he should have a better handle on where to go with the football and the personnel that’s available. Appleby started learning the offense in January. He’s got the big arm, great size and he’s a very bright kid. Give him 4-5 more months of film room work and he should narrow the gap with Del Rio considerably.
3. Piniero’s first field goal would have been good from at least 65 yards: That 52-yarder was a cannon shot. When it hit the net behind the goal posts it was just starting to reach its peak altitude. For the game Piniero was 3-5. Both his misses were beyond 50 yards and both had more than enough distance. He’s still learning to kick footballs. Unless he gets hurt or gets snakes in his head, it’s safe to say Florida’s field goal kicking problems are a thing of the past.
4. Better depth at LB than expected: The addition of true freshman David Reese and the added size and strength the redshirt year gave Kylan Johnson and Rayshad Jackson means the Gators will have good depth at linebacker in the fall. Now, if only Alex Anzalone and Matt Rolin will stay healthy and Daniel McMillian’s improvement will carry over into the fall, then we won’t have to worry so much about who’s on the field with Jarrad Davis. Since most of the teams the Gators play will run some sort of spread attack, UF will be in 2-linebacker sets most of the time anyway.
5. Martez Ivey needs to move outside: With T.J. McCoy’s emergence at center gives them the flexibility to shift Cam Dillard to guard if necessary and Tyler Jordan a jack-of-all trades type who can play anywhere on the O-line, the Gators look very good on the interior. Help is needed at the tackles and there is really no reason for Martez Ivey to stay inside. David Sharpe, Fred Johnson and Ivey will give the Gators a good 3-man rotation on the outside. If Andrew Mike and Kavaris Harkless develop, the Gators could be deep on the outside, too.
6. Mark Thompson is the real deal: Did you see him accelerate through tackles and move the pile forward even when there was no blocking? He catches the ball and has an extra gear for going the distance. He’s got to work on his ball security and he’s not at the point where you would call him a dependable pass blocker but those are things that he can work on and get better at.
7. The secondary will be as strong if not stronger: Most secondaries would be devastated to lose Vernon Hargreaves III, Keanu Neal and Brian Poole, who will all be playing on Sunday in the fall. Florida’s secondary will be just as strong. There is no lack of talent – people will be talking about Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor as the best set of corners in the country and Marcus Maye did indeed make at least one All-America team last year – and there is depth. There is also the Torrian Gray factor. I like the aggressiveness I saw out from the #1 defense and even though some of the younger guys got torched by Luke Del Rio, there was reason to believe this unit is going to be really, really good and perhaps even better than last year.
8. Talent and strength are definitely improved: There is far more talent top to bottom of the roster than there was last year and it’s not too difficult to tell this group is stronger than they were last spring by a rather wide margin. I really like what Mike Kent has done with kids like Kylan Johnson, Rayshad Jackson and Jabari Zuniga. As a whole, the linemen on both sides of the ball look far better conditioned.
UF SPRING SPORTS UPDATES
Baseball: The Gators (29-5, 8-4 SEC) are likely to fall from their #1 perch after dropping the last two games of their three-game series with 10th-ranked Mississippi State (23-9-1, 8-4 SEC). The Gators dropped a 2-1 decision to the Bulldogs Sunday afternoon, UF’s only run coming on a 2-out homer to left center field in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Gators face Florida State in Tallahassee Tuesday and travel to Arkansas
Softball: The 3rd-ranked Gators (38-3, 12-3 SEC) completed a weekend sweep of Ole Miss (28-13, 4-8) with a 4-2 win on Sunday. The pitching was exceptional all weekend as the Gators got a complete game shutout from Delanie Gourley (11-2) Friday night, a 4-hitter from Aleshia Ocasio (13-1) on Saturday and a combined 3-hitter from Kelly Barnhill (14-0) and Ocasio on Sunday. The big news was the bats might be starting to wake up. The Gators got four homers on Friday night, two on Saturday and two on Sunday. Kayli Kvistad homered Friday and Sunday and Aubrey Munro hit homers on Friday and Saturday nights. The Gators play host to 8th-ranked Florida State Wednesday and welcome 5th-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette for a non-conference 3-game series on Friday.
Lacrosse: The 2nd-ranked Gators (12-1, 3-0 Big East) kept their conference mark unblemished with a 14-7 win over Georgetown in Washington, DC. The Gators are home against Marquette Wednesday and at Villanova on Saturday.
Women’s Tennis: The 6th-ranked Gators (16-2, 11-0 SEC) set up their SEC showdown with Georgia next week by breezing through the state of Alabama over the weekend, hammering Alabama in Tuscaloosa, 6-1, on Friday and then finishing off 13th-ranked Auburn (20-5, 8-3 SEC), 4-0, on Sunday. The Gators wrap up their SEC regular season next weekend at 4th-ranked Georgia on Friday and Tennessee on Sunday.
Men’s Tennis: The Gators (13-6, 8-2 SEC) rebounded from a disappointing loss at Georgia Friday by taking out South Carolina, 6-1, Sunday afternoon in Columbia. The Gators play host to Kentucky and Tennessee next weekend in their final matches before the SEC Tournament in Columbia, beginning April 20.
Not taking anything away from Danny Willett, who played great golf to get to -5 on Sunday, but the 2016 Masters is more about what Jordan Spieth did to lose it than Willett did to win it. Spieth went bogey-bogey to end his round Friday, bogey-double bogey to end his Saturday round when he turned a comfortable 3-shot lead into a precarious 1-shot lead and then Sunday was ahead by 5 strokes when he went bogey-bogey-quadruple bogey on the Amen Corner. I hate to say that anyone choked, but is there any other way to describe what Spieth did? Even with Willett playing so well on Sunday, Spieth should have won this tournament by 5-8 shots.
* The last time I saw such a collapse in a major was 1996 when Greg Norman blew it so that Nick Faldo could win his third green jacket.
* I was a bit surprised that neither Jason Day nor Rory McIlroy mounted a Sunday charge. When Spieth finished bogey-double bogey on Saturday and good weather on Sunday, I thought their ability to turn the par 5s into easy birdie opportunities would let them make a run, but they couldn’t make putts and Spieth kept nailing his chances.
* Saturday, I found myself cheering for 58-year-old Bernhard Langer, a two-time Masters champ whose last green jacket was donned in 1993. On Saturday, Bernhard played like a youngster. On Sunday, he played like he’s 58.
* After three days of watching the wind sail golf balls all over the course, Sunday was fun if you were parked at #16 where Shane Lowry, Davis Love III and Louis Oosthuizen scored holes-in-one. Oosthuizen’s ace was spectacular because it hit J.B. Holmes’ ball on its way to the hole.
* Will Lee Westwood make the list of “best golfers to never win a major?” I thought he was in good position to win Sunday but after an eagle on 15 to close within a shot of Willett, he went wimpy on us on 16 and bogeyed the hole.
FOOTBALL/BASKETBALL NEWS FROM AROUND THE SEC
Alabama: Running back Bo Scarbrough was the star of Saturday’s scrimmage, carrying 12 times for 111 yards and a TD. Wide receiver Robert Foster had 4 catches for 106 yards and 2 TDs.
Arkansas: Any doubt who is the #1 QB was erased at Saturday’s scrimmage when Austin Allen completed 14-17 passes for 203 years and 3 TDs. Backup Rafe Peavy was 6-12 for 130 yards and a TD while Ty Storey was 6-10 for 95 yards and a TD. Ricky Town completed only one pass for 18 yards.
Auburn: The big news this spring has been improvement on the defensive side of the ball where a D-line of Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Marlon Davidson has the look of one of the better units in the SEC.
Kentucky: Tyler Ulis, who has declared for the NBA, won the Bob Cousy Award as college basketball’s top point guard.
LSU: Junior D-lineman Sione Teuhema has been suspended from the team and might not be allowed to return per The Advocate’s Ross Dellenger. Teuhema’s younger brother Maea, started 10 games at LG last year and is expected to start again this year.
Mississippi State: After a rotten scrimmage a week ago, Damian Williams rebounded to hit 12-17 passes for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns. For the second straight scrimmage Elijah Staley was sharp, hitting 17-28 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown while running for two more TDs.
Missouri: Prior to the NCAA ban on satellite camps, Missouri coach Barry Odom says he had 10 lined up including a “mega-camp” in the Atlanta area.
Ole Miss: Spring football is over without a spring game. Questions about the O-line and wide receiver were answered in a positive way. The breakout guy was junior linebacker DeMarquis Gates, who has everyone buzzing in Oxford.
South Carolina: True freshman Brandon McIlwain ran for a touchdown and completed 19-26 passes for 169 yards and 2 TDs in the Garnet and Black Game.
Tennessee: Placekicker Aaron Medley, who converted 21-31 on field goal attempts last year, says his accuracy problems were all mental. “Between the ears, for sure,” is how Medley described it after Tennessee’s practice on Saturday.
Texas A&M: Oklahoma grad transfer Trevor Knight solidified himself as the #1 QB by hitting 25-36 passes for 282 yards and two TDs, plus a rushing TD, in the A&M spring game.
The Golden State Warriors handed the San Antonio Spurs their first home loss of the season and in doing so, tied the 1996 Chicago Bulls for the most single season wins in NBA history. They can break the record Wednesday night if they can beat the Memphis Grizzlies in the final regular season game of the year.
Kobe Bryant went off for 35 Sunday. He’s got two more games – at Oklahoma City tonight and home Wednesday against the Utah Jazz. You may or may not like Kobe as a human being – some say he’s a slug and they’re being kind – but there is no doubting he could light it up during his career that has seen him score 33,535 points. Kobe at his best was really good. Not Michael Jordan good but then again, nobody has ever been as good as MJ.
The Baltimore Orioles are 5-0 and the last unbeaten team remaining in Major League Baseball.
Remember when the Atlanta Braves were a lock for the playoffs? So do I. The Braves of the last couple of years bring back memories of the 1970s when you could count on the Braves to finish last.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
The game of golf seems to be in good shape with the likes of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy to carry the torch, but do you miss Tiger Woods?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I’ve been a big Jeff Beck fan dating all the way back to his days with The Yardbirds. I came across this video of his performance at Crossroads 2007 and it was a nice reminder of just how talented he was, is and will always be.