More than 38,000 fans filed into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday to watch the Florida Gators conclude spring practice with a live scrimmage in the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut. After combining to score just seven points in the first three quarters, Blue outscored Orange 21-13 in the final quarter to pull off a 21-20 victory.
“Really pleased with where we are at this point,” head coach Will Muschamp said after the scrimmage. “I feel much better standing here today than I did a year ago as far as where we are as a football team, our physicality as a team, our togetherness as a team as this moves forward. We got the right kind of guys. We just got to get better. There’s things we need to improve on.”
QUARTERBACKS STEP INTO THE SPOTLIGHT
Florida fans wanted to see a big-time competition from sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel and that is exactly what they got on Saturday. Brissett (9/16 for 233 yards and two touchdowns) and Driskel (12/14 for 147 yards) each had their good and bad moments on the field including long passes and over/under-thrown balls. Brissett hit freshman wide receiver Latroy Pittman with a great pass down the left sideline for 43 yards. He also connected on a bomb with junior Trey Burton that resulted in a touchdown and found redshirt sophomore WR Quinton Dunbar in the back of the end zone early in the game. Driskel completed a nice 44-yard pass to redshirt junior WR Andre Debose near the right sideline and also hit Burton on a deep pass that he brought inside the five. His accuracy and athleticism were both impressive as he was able to extend plays and make correct decisions.
“We saw that both those guys throw the ball extremely well. They’re both really good athletes and guys that can create some off-tempo plays for us as a football team,” Muschamp said. “It was very evident [how close they are]. You see both guys take command of our football team. Both guys made vertical plays down the field, good decisions where they took the ball. There’s no question you saw what I’ve been seeing for 14 practices previous [to Saturday]. I’ve said this before: We can win with both guys.”
Up next for the duo is managing the offense in the offseason. Muschamp wants to see how they rally the players for 11-on-11 drills and PRPs (player-run practices) without any influence from the coaching staff. “Those guys need to take the next step as far as that’s concerned,” he said.
As far as the players go, though both are working hard to earn the starting job, neither is taking the actual competition with their friend too seriously. “I love it. Coming out every day, competing against the No. 1 quarterback in the country a couple of years ago. It don’t get no better,” Brissett said. “I guess I’m slower so that’s what I’m lacking. Jeff is a great quarterback. He can make every throw that I can make, so it’s going to be tough to see what the real difference is. [...] I don’t got nothing wrong against him. I mean, I look better, but that’s just something he’s got to deal with.”
Driskel joked that he doesn’t play basketball with Brissett because his teammate is better in that area and said that the two are making sure the rivalry does not ruin their friendship even if he was not necessarily comfortable with his commitment in the first place. “I wasn’t excited about it at first but I realized they’re going to bring somebody in the next year. There’s always going to be competition. So I embraced that, and I think it’s made me better through the spring,” he said.
Check out the rest of the Orange & Blue Debut postgame report…after the break!
RUNNING BACKS GET THEIR SHARE, TOO
Thanks to some great work from the starting offensive line and good run blocking all around, the Gators’ running backs had an opportunity to shine on Saturday. Senior Mike Gillislee got the start and gained 35 yards on six carries with an impressive first-quarter breakaway for 20 yards; however, he sat for most of the contest and did not have an opportunity to add to his total. Redshirt sophomore Mack Brown added 31 yards with a touchdown on eight carries, and sophomore Chris Johnson (who recently moved to offense from being a safety and linebacker) led the way with 13 carries for 43 yards and a score. Sophomore fullback Hunter Joyer (three carries for 12 yards, touchdown) and redshirt senior RB Omarius Hines (three receptions for 44 yards) also got involved and each had a few highlights of their own.
“We’re just better up front. We’re tougher. We’re stronger. We do a better job at the first level climbing to the second level,” Muschamp said about the running game and offensive line. “I’m just really pleased with our progress on the offensive line. If there’s any one unit of our football team that I think has made tremendous strides and needed to, it has been there.”
LOTS OF MISSING PIECES AND A FEW INJURY CONCERNS
UF had nearly two dozen players that either did not participate in a single play on Saturday or were forced to leave the game early due to injury. The first dozen were previously known injuries but there were some surprise scratches as well. Junior safety Matt Elam did not play and has not participated in practice recently after injuring the groin he had surgery on in January. Senior linebacker Jon Bostic sat with back spasms. A pair of wide receivers – redshirt senior Frankie Hammond, Jr. and redshirt freshman Ja’Juan Story – were both out with ankle injuries. Freshman cornerback Willie Bailey also rested with an undisclosed ailment. Three other players – junior Buck linebacker Ronald Powell (sprained knee), junior cornerback Cody Riggs (knee) and senior left tackle Xavier Nixon (shoulder) – left the scrimmage early and did not return.
HIGHLIGHTS BUT NO CONSISTENCY FROM RECEIVERS
Many of Florida’s pass catchers were able to have a special moment on Saturday. Pittman, Debose and Dunbar were the recipients of some nice passes from Brissett and Driskel but none of the three really capitalized and made sure to haul in one or two more balls to really separate themselves. Burton actually had the largest number of impactful catches with three coming late in the game, and sophomore walk-on Michael McNeely caught a 62-yard bomb from Driskel late in in the fourth quarter as well.
YOUNG DEFENDERS FILL IN THE GAPS
With the majority of players sidelined for the contest coming from the defensive side of the ball, the unit’s young up-and-comers had a great opportunity to show off in front of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. A trio of linebackers – freshman Antonio Morrison and redshirt sophomores Michael Taylor and Gideon Ajagbe – proved that they are more than just extra bodies on the field. Two of Florida’s cornerbacks – junior Jaylen Watkins and sophomore Jabari Gorman – excelled in coverage and tackling and made some nice plays on the ball, too.
“Depth brings competition. That makes everybody better when somebody knows that their job can be taken because another guy is standing there waiting for it. They did some nice things today,” Muschamp said. “I thought Jabari Gorman showed up and made some nice tackles. Coverage down the field, it was good to see Jaylen get the ball off Jordan [Reed] in the back of the end zone there on the fade ball, which was nice.”
It is normally tough to gauge where a defense is at in a spring game because the blitzes are reduced and the defensive line usually concentrates in run stopping. To that end, Florida did quite well especially in the first half. When Quinn is able to add another handful of healthy starters to the group that he put on the field Saturday, the Gators’ defense will undoubtedly be taken to another level. How well the unit played without those starters showed a lot even in undesirable circumstances.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp on one of the team’s guest speakers: “The Hall of Fame induction of Alex Brown – he spoke to our football team and did a great job talking about his time at Florida. The guy’s played nine years in the NFL, played for a Super Bowl, talked about how much he cherished his time at the University of Florida and how much that meant to him. I hope our guys were listening.”
» Mushcamp on another guest speaker: “Billy Donovan spoke at our banquet and did a phenomenal job as he always does in everything he does. He talked about there’s three ways to climb the mountain as a team: ‘You can all run together, we can direct you, or you can as coaches get on the backs on the players and the players say, ‘I’m taking you. Let’s go.’’ And I hope we’re working to that. I always bring that up to our players as far as attacking the mountain, attacking the season. Let’s let us jump on your back and us just show you the way.”
» Muschamp on what he means by having the “right kind of guys” on the team: “A guy that’s willing to work. A guy that not only wants to win but understands what it takes to win. It’s hard winning in this league. You can work really hard and all that but you got to be totally committed to doing the right things in the weight room and making the good decisions off the field and making good decisions on the field as a player. I think that we’re headed that direction. I really like our locker room right now. I like where we’re headed. We’re not perfect but we got guys that understand what it takes to be successful. I don’t feel like I have to constantly preach leadership to them all the time. Now there are guys on our team willing to do that, and it’s not fake and it’s not sometimes – it’s an all-the-time thing for them.”
» Muschamp on Pittman: “He’s done a nice job. He really has. He’s a hard worker and football is important to him. He’s physical; he’s tough. He’s got ball instincts. He’s got play-making ability. We’re very pleased with his progress.”
» Muschamp on the offense being better this year: “I’m worried about winning games. I’m not into style points. We certainly didn’t get any last year.”
» Muschamp on Burton: “He’s just a good football player. He can do a lot of different things for you, and we’ve got a lot of different roles for him.”
» Driskel on his positives and negatives from the scrimmage: “I just found open receivers. The receivers were getting open. The offensive line was giving me time. There was one play I was standing back there for about 4-5 seconds; I had all the time in the world. Bad – I screwed up a couple calls, got the wristband wrong and forgot to send somebody in motion. So I’ve got to clean that up.”
» Joyer on being the short-yardage back: “I like that the coaches respect me enough and think highly of me to take it in that situation, such a tough situation to get a yard.”