GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s hard to make sense of how Florida got so little production the second half of the season from what should be a productive wide receiver duo.
Antonio Callaway was a breakout star as a freshman in 2015 and projected to be even better heading into his second season. Tyrie Cleveland was the prize of the Gators’ last recruiting class, and once he got past the hamstring issues that slowed him through the preseason and first handful of games, he showed enough potential for everyone to see where the hype originated.
And yet, the reality is Callaway didn’t total more than 63 receiving yards in any of the final eight games, averaging 3.75 catches and 41.4 receiving yards per game during that stretch. Those aren’t the numbers of a No. 1 receiver, or even a good No. 2 option.
That’s not a statement about Callaway, who is a legitimate big-play threat, but of the Gators’ inability to use him. Be it the quarterback play, the play calling, the lack of a high-level second option to keep defenses from taking him out of the game, etc.
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) September 11, 2016
Except, confusion continues because Cleveland is good enough to be that second option. He was the No. 2-rated wide receiver in the 2016 class, has terrific speed and showed his playmaking ability with a 98-yard touchdown reception against LSU that stands as one of the Gators’ best highlights of the season.
SEE YA! ?
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 19, 2016
Yet, aside from that 124-yard game in Baton Rouge, La., Cleveland only topped 40 receiving yards one other time all season and was held to 1 or no catches in four of the last six games.
The Gators’ passing attack had problems aplenty, including the aforementioned inconsistent quarterback play and inconsistent offensive line play. There were plenty of times Cleveland was left open and not targeted, and he hinted at his frustration after the SEC Championship Game. But those numbers are hard to believe.
It might not be possible for fans to be any more frustrated with the state of the Florida offense — one that was 115th of 128 FBS teams while averaging 345.1 yards per game — but what makes those struggles all the more dejecting is that the Gators are wasting a pretty talented receiving corps.
Everybody involved will have to hope that changes in 2017.
Again, it’s hard to pin too much of the blame for the passing game struggles on the wide receivers. The talent is there. They mostly took advantage of their opportunities. They just need more help.
Star of the group
Sophomore Antonio Callaway
Callaway opened the season with 335 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns over his first three games before better defenses made him a focal point and the offense in general got mired in another season of struggles.
Still Callaway had 47 catches for 666 yards and 3 touchdowns, finally finding the end zone again against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. But it wasn’t quite the follow-up he or anyone envisioned after a freshman season in which he caught 35 passes for 678 yards and 4 touchdowns.
He’ll try to boost those 2016 stats in the Outback Bowl against Iowa on Jan. 2.
Looking at 2017
This group only gets stronger heading into next season.
It might be easy to forget now because he barely got to play in his first year at Florida, but junior college transfer Dre Massey was projected to be a key part of the passing attack this fall.
He was considered the team’s fastest player and a weapon out of the slot who could be used in a variety of ways. Instead, he tore his right ACL in the first half of the season opener. He’ll look to restart his Gators’ career in 2017 and could give the offense the extra dimension it needs.
Callaway and Cleveland are back as the projected top two options. Brandon Powell, who is second on the team with 43 catches for 372 yards and 2 touchdowns, will return as another veteran option. And the Gators will look for continued development from Josh Hammond (14 catches for 177 yards and 0 touchdowns) and Freddie Swain (7-94-2), who both had some nice moments as freshmen.
Florida also has one strong commitment at the position in Daquon Green, an Under Armour All-American rated as a 4-star recruit and the No. 26 wide receiver in this signing class.
The Gators have the playmaking receivers to be productive if can they figure out how to use them.
All recruiting rankings come from the 247Sports Composite.
Here’s the schedule for the rest of our position-by-position review with a link to the earlier installments.
Dec. 12: Special teams
Dec. 13: Cornerbacks
Dec. 14: Safeties
Dec. 15: Linebackers
Dec. 16: Defensive line
Dec. 19: Offensive line
Dec. 20: Tight ends
Dec. 21: Wide receivers
Dec. 22: Running backs
Dec. 23: Quarterbacks