Underwhelmed. That was my initial impression with the Florida Gators offense after watching the Orange and Blue Debut on Friday night.
But I looked at the film further, and I can see the players have improved with more coaching. I’ve been hard on the Gators in the last year, and if the spring game is any indication, many of the issues are getting fixed.
The first thing I noticed was the lack of penalties and issues with getting the play into the huddle. After the 2016 SEC Championship Game against Alabama, I blasted Florida for its inability to conduct a drive without a drive-ending mistake. Those were noticeably absent in the first half, particularly for the first team. No false starts. No holding. No delay of game penalties. For an offense that faced a ton of second-and-12s after a false start followed up by a 3-yard run, this is a big deal.
RB Jordan Scarlett: Pass protection
I’ve also been hard on running back Jordan Scarlett and his inability to pass protect. He cost himself playing time last season — particularly early in the year — and cost the Gators offense at least one drive per game where the QB got pressured before being able to find an open receiver. Scarlett answered any questions in the second quarter.
On the play above, safety Garrett Stephens (30) blitzed. Scarlett not only saw the blitz, he stoned Stephens. He then continued to engage the block, allowing time for receiver Brandon Powell to come across the field and QB Feleipe Franks to deliver the ball. For a spring game devoid of much emotion, Scarlett acted like he had something to prove. If he can do this consistently, the offense will become much less predictable with him on the field.
Feleipe Franks: Limiting mistakes
Franks also improved. Last year’s spring game was a nightmare for Franks, who completed 75 percent of his passes to the opposition. He still locked onto his first read a lot, targeting them with 11 of his 14 passes. He also wasn’t particularly accurate on those passes, completing 6 of them.
But he didn’t force anything — a major step forward after last year’s game.
This play initially looked like a failure for the Gators offense. But Franks looked at multiple receivers and didn’t see anybody open. He tried to scramble and got sacked.
Sometimes you don’t convert third-and-9. This isn’t a win for the offense, but it isn’t a loss. With a punter like Johnny Townsend, this is a place where you want to play field position rather than force the ball and risk an interception. Franks did just that.
Feleipe Franks: Adjusting in-game
One also could see Franks learn from his mistakes during the game. Compare two throws from the first and second quarter.
The first throw came during the opening drive of the game. Franks made the right read and threw the ball to an open Josh Hammond. But Franks threw it as hard as he could, perhaps trying to fit the ball between the defenders rather putting some air under the throw and allowing Hammond to run away from them.
Franks clearly learned from his mistake with this touchdown throw to Antonio Callaway in the second quarter.
Franks took something off the ball. It wasn’t a soft throw, but it wasn’t his fastball. As a result, he fit the ball between defenders while allowing Callaway to adjust if the accuracy wasn’t absolutely perfect. The accuracy on this one was pretty good, but it doesn’t have to be perfect because he eased up a bit.
As last year’s spring game showed, you can’t put too much stock in statistics. Luke Del Rio lit up the second-team defense and looked unstoppable. But what we can take from the spring game is see if players are improving in areas where they have previously struggled.
While Florida may be the only team I’ve ever seen get a personal foul for a late hit on a quarterback out of bounds in a spring game, that was one of the few stupid mistakes. Florida’s blitz pickups were solid. Franks threw the ball away when he needed to, and improved during the game.
There’s still a lot of work to do before the Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan. But Gators fans should be encouraged at the reduction in mistakes during the spring game.