GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In fans’ first glimpse at the 2016 Gators, Florida looked like an improved and more promising team than the one that ended last season with a three-game losing streak.
The program seems to have found a new quarterback and kicker, as well as a couple of new standout players on defense. Below are the grades UF deserves from its performance in the Orange & Blue Debut.
The offensive starters went against the second-team defense in the spring game, so take their performances with a grain of salt. But the unit looks much better with Luke Del Rio under center and the new weapons he has around him. Del Rio led the Gators on four touchdown drives (though one was 28 yards) and strengthened his lead in the quarterback competition. Junior college transfers Dre Massey and Mark Thompson both stood out in the game and found the end zone. The Gators also got scores from tight ends DeAndre Goolsby and C’yontai Lewis, who had game-highs in receptions (five) and receiving yards (79). Six wide receivers made catches of 15 yards or more, and that was without Antonio Callaway, Ahmad Fulwood and Brandon Powell.
Duke Dawson showed why he has locked down the starting spot at nickelback. He came up with two instinctive interceptions and returned the second for a 30-yard touchdown. The Gators got production from all of their linebackers, but Kylan Johnson stole the show. The former safety finished with a game-high eight tackles, an interception and a quarterback hurry. The performances of Dawson and Johnson bode well for Florida because of the lack of depth at both of their positions. UF also had four defensive ends register sacks: Bryan Cox Jr., Keivonnis Davis, Jordan Smith and Jabari Zuniga.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
With no live returns and only two punts in the spring game, it was the Eddy Pineiro show. His first extra point drew a loud cheer from the crowd of 46,000, as did his first-ever field goal attempt in a game, which he drilled from 52 yards out. After missing from 53 yards in the third quarter, Pineiro bounced back by making a 56-yarder. He also had touchbacks on nine of his 10 kickoffs.
Florida wasn’t perfect by any means in the Orange & Blue Debut, and there’s some concern about depth and readiness of the second-team offensive and defensive units. But the Gators showed Friday they have the talent and new pieces to replace the 2015 starters they lost on both sides of the ball.