Spring Game: About What We Expected

For many on Saturday the spring game was the first look at a lot of new faces and names in Gator gear. Some were old names that haven't had a chance to do their thing yet, and then a couple of players that maybe shined that weren't expected to. In all the spring game on Florida field went about as expected.

Florida head football coach Urban Meyer graded it an "A" Spring game and over all spring practice, but implied this team is no where ready to compete like they need to in the fall.

With key starters on the sideline and not participating, some of the lineups on both sides of the ball for the spring game were a bit watered down. On the day, the Gators had one scholarship tailback available, two real quarterbacks available, a total of six offensive linemen, and only nine defensive linemen. The numbers at some positions were really scarce , but somehow they managed to pull off a very exciting game that the estimated crowd of 51,500 enjoyed watching.

The excitement started early with the very first play with the passing combination of junior starting quarterback John Brantley throwing to junior X receiver Deonte Thompson for 47 yards down the left sideline. Brantley threw a beautiful pass that sailed over true freshman Josh Shaw and Shaw was able to bring him down shortly after the catch. Brantley and the offense was able to punch it in a few plays later when sophomore running back mike Gillislee, the only scholarship running back playing on the day, ran in from one yard out.

Shaw got to exact his revenge when switching to the orange team and intercepting the very first pass from freshman trey Burton. The pass was also deep down the left side of the field and Shaw was able to return it 31 yards to the 44 yard line. Two big catches by Carl Moore (14 and 19 yards) in a five play drive ended in another quick touchdown for the blue team and the score was quickly 14-0.

Tight end / quarterback Jordan Reed started the next drive as the signal caller, but Burton then took control and led his orange team back on a 14 play, 65 yard touchdown drive that showed a bit of patience. The drive consisted of one play over 7 yards (a 22 yard pass to freshman receiver Robert Clark from Burton) and showed the poise and understanding of the spread option offense that head coach urban Meyer wants to instill in the young quarterbacks.

Eventually the veteran blue team consisting of more first teamers than the orange won the game 27-24.

Several keys in the game were nice markers for what this group has accomplished over the spring, especially on offense.

Most notable was the play of the quarterbacks. Brantley went 15-19 (a whopping .789 completion percentage) for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Brantley looked sharp throwing to his receivers both long and short. He had one of his best days all spring which could be an indicator of how he will play with the game on.

Brantley has looked good most of the spring, but looked exceptionally sharp in front of the bigger crowd. He seemed to be in control pf the offense and hit different receivers throughout the day.

Not to be outdone, Burton was pretty outstanding himself. The less heralded of the quarterbacks, Burton completed 12 of 18 passes for 120 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for 123 yards as the game's leading rusher. Burton had the longest run from scrimmage (76 yards) for any Gator player in a spring game since they have kept records of the contest dating back to the 1996 spring game.

Burton probably surprised most on the day, but not the that have watched him all spring. He doesn't have the best throwing motion, but he just seems to get the job done when called to do it and has done so pretty much the entire spring.

Reed, who has been a surprise all spring as a tight end, was equally or more surprising with his play at quarterback in the game. He was 3-5 for 80 yards on the day including a 39 yard strike to senior receiver Carl Moore. Reed was inserted in the game as a "Wildcat" double threat quarterback who also ran for 25 yards on four carries combined for the two teams.

It is no secret that Reed possesses the physical tools to play quarterback in the SEC, however he seemed to really mature mentally into his role in a game with all of the fans watching. What a threat he could emerge as in the 2010 season.

As a receiver, Moore led them all on the day with eight catches for 130 yards. Moore found himself a target by both quarterbacks and seemed to own the ball when in the air, despite a few not so perfect passes. This is the intangible we have seen from Moore in bits this spring and he showed it a great deal on Saturday. This will get him on the field on Saturdays.

Thompson caught his one pass for 47 yards and then wasn't heard from again. He has been as consistent as any receiver this spring and really stood out for most of the 15 practices.

We saw a glimpse or two from Andre Debose during the game. Debose, lining up in the slot got away from his defender twice before the ball got to him in the flat and turned up field for extra yardage. He finished with just two catches for 30 yards, but in just those two catches, we could see his ability coming back to him.

After the game, Debose met with the media and said he feels like he is about 80% back from his hamstring surgery and most of the remaining is a just a mental barrier he is getting over. He took his first snap against a defensive player on Wednesday of last week, so this game and the two catches were significant.

Omarius Hines also showed why he will be a big target for Gator quarterbacks in 2010. Four catches for 69 yards and a touchdown on the day were something akin to what he would show in an average practice during the spring. Hines has the body of a linebacker and is a big target for quarterbacks, but he also moves well and is hard to tackle.

Sophomore receivers Frankie Hammond and T.J. Lawrence combined for six catches, 61 yards and two touchdowns. The two should provide some depth at receiver and will see game action in 2010.

Mike Gillislee continued to be a horse at running back like he has been all season. With 10 carries for 47 yards he seemed to get better as the day wore on. Gillislee longest two runs of the day were 12 yards and 24 yards and came on his last two carries of the day.

The offensive line was typical for what we have seen in the last week and a half of spring practice Injuries and the need to get back ups a lot of work saw only six scholarship offensive linemen take the field on Saturday. Sophomore center Nick Alajajian snapped on every play for both teams and while there were a few miscues from snaps, he showed marked improvement in that part of his game.

With Brantley at the helm and the officials not allowing Brantley to get hit, the line gave up four sacks...a stat that needs to improve. Again, there was likely one or maybe two starters on the field for the offensive line during the entire game.

On defense four guys that will play a lot on the front line made real impacts in the game. Starting defensive tackles junior Jaye Howard and sophomore Omar Hunter finished with a combines four tackles for loss and two sacks. Getting pressure from the inside of the line is going to be key for this Gator squad in 2010. Seniors Terron Sanders, Lawrence Marsh, and Brandon Antwine missed the contest with injuries.

Starting senior FOX defensive end Duke Lemmens also had a sack while his back up junior William Green recorded two tackles for loss including one sack of Brantley. The FOX position has been a key one to get an answer for this spring and the two guys seemed to have stepped up to the plate in the 15 practices.

At linebacker sophomore Brendan Beal had his second straight spring ending scrimmage recording a position high five tackles. Meyer called the linebacker group the most improved position this spring and senior Lorenzo Edwards and Jon Bostic stood out as well in the game. Senior starters A.J. Jones and Brandon Hicks sat out the contest.

Walk-on linebacker Scott Peek really showed his stuff in the game accounting for four tackles and an interception that he returned 25 yards.

Junior cornerback Janoris Jenkins sat out the contest and in a surprise move, sophomore Jeremy Brown also sat out. Meyer said after the game that if he "had to go right now it would be (Brown) or Moses Jenkins (as the starter opposite Janoris), I would probably go with Brown."

An injury to freshman Jaylen Watkins and the absence of sophomore Adrian Bushell who is not on the team right now according to defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, left just Josh Shaw and Moses Jenkins as scholarship corners and play for both teams. Shaw ended up leading all defenders in tackles with eight on the day. A nice but somewhat dubious stat given that he had to tackle receivers after they caught the ball.

Starting safeties Will Hill and Ahmad Black also sat along with injured sophomore Josh Evans. That left true freshmen Matt Elam at strong safety / nickel and Jordan Haden at the free safety to play for both teams and play a lot. Elam has been a steadily consistent player almost the entire spring and finished the day with four tackles.

In all it was a nice representation of what we have seen from the young players on the squad throughout the spring. Playing all of the young guys will only benefit a team that is looking for depth in certain areas...Florida seemed to fin a lot of that depth this spring and on Saturday they showed they can play in front of a crowd as well.

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