GAINESVILLE — The Gators just keep rolling.
Who predicted No. 25 Florida to start the season with a 5-0 record? Who predicted Florida to dominate No. 3 Ole Miss from start to finish for a 38-10 win on Saturday? If you think you saw this coming, you’re probably lying.
But with that in mind, it’s time to reassess the potential of this team. For now, let’s examine what we learned from the Gators’ statement win over the Rebels.
1. Better than we thought: Many outsiders expected Florida to win seven, maybe eight games this season. Well, the Gators are already approaching that number and we haven’t even hit the midpoint of the season yet. Even more impressive, Florida already has three SEC wins over Kentucky, Tennessee and No. 3 Ole Miss. Even more encouraging, the Gators seem like they’re getting better as each week passes. Florida has started 5-0 in just two (2009, 2012) of the past eight seasons. But neither of those seasons began with the low expectations this one did. In 2009, Florida was coming off a national title. In 2012, the Gators began the season ranked No. 23. Are Florida players surprised by the team’s fast start under coach Jim McElwain?
“In our locker room, we know who we are,” Gators linebacker Jarrad Davis said after the win over Ole Miss. “We know exactly who we are. We know exactly who we’re gonna be. I told them at the end of the game, we have to stay humble and hungry. People doubted us before this game. I don’t know if they’re going to doubt us ever again after this game, but it doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is those guys in there and that we come out to practice every week and work our [butts] off and make sure that we come out on Saturdays ready to set the tone and make a point to anybody.”
Well, that’s a pretty strong statement.
2. Offensive line making progress: It’s going to get overshadowed by quarterback Will Grier and the skill players’ performances, but Florida’s offensive line came to play against Ole Miss. What many pointed to as the Gators’ biggest weakness, held its own against one of the best defensive lines in the country. The Gators are constantly rotating linemen in and out of the game, but they make it work. Grier was sacked twice Saturday, but he wasn’t forced to scramble out of the pocket as much against the Rebels. Play action and called rollouts also helped keep Ole Miss’ defensive line honest throughout the game. After the game, Grier complimented the offensive line’s play against the Rebels’ many blitzes.
3. Antonio Morrison is back: It has been the elephant in the room to start the season, but senior linebacker Antonio Morrison had not looked like himself. After Morrison returned just eight months after suffering a serious knee injury during Florida’s 28-20 win in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3, he has looked a step slower. But that all changed against Ole Miss on Saturday, as Morrison balled out with a team-high 13 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for a loss, and a half sack. Through the first four games, he was averaging six tackles and 0.75 tackles for a loss per contest. If Morrison’s Ole Miss performance is a sign of things to come, that’s definitely a good thing for the Gators.
“Antonio played great today,” Gators defensive back Marcus Maye said. “He was a big part of getting the team together this week. He did a great job of leading us all week. We know what we’re going to get out of Antonio, him being the guy in the middle. It’s great to see him out there flying around, making plays, doing great.”
4. Will Grier is the best Gators QB since?: Can I say Tim Tebow? Is it too soon? Probably. But more performances like the one Will Grier put together Saturday and we could be answering this question with a definitive “Tim Tebow” soon. Grier made all the right decisions, picking apart a defense that entered with a conference-best 10 turnovers forced and seven interceptions. When Ole Miss blitzed, Grier had an answer. When the Rebels didn’t blitz, he had an answer for that, too. It seems like Grier is becoming more and more comfortable with each game that passes. Over Grier’s past five quarters, he’s 35 of 47 for 412 yards and six touchdowns. That ain’t bad.
5. SEC East is wide open: So through five weeks, the Gators are the only undefeated team remaining in the SEC East. Favorite Georgia fell to Alabama 38-10 on Saturday. Kentucky and Missouri are tied with Georgia with one conference loss. Tennessee dropped to 0-2 in the conference after losing to Arkansas on Saturday. And South Carolina and Vanderbilt are at the bottom. As of today, Florida is at the top. How long will that last? Not sure. With the Gators’ next three games coming on the road against Missouri, LSU and Georgia (Jacksonville), we are going to find out a lot about this team over the next month. But what everybody thought was a pipe dream — winning the SEC East — is now a realistic possibility.