The 2014 Orange & Blue Debut is in the books with the Florida Gators coming away from their spring game without a winner as the first-team Blue and second-team Orange left the field tied at 23-23 at the end of the fourth quarter.
Florida’s offense certainly looked much improved, though there were questions about the Gators defense – specifically the line – especially by the time the scrimmage concluded.
OnlyGators.com offered free live coverage of the event as well as head coach Will Muschamp post-spring game press conference and now wraps it all up with evaluations, notes and quotes in the Orange & Blue Debut Review.
» The running backs showed off with redshirt senior Mack Brown (Blue) toting the rock eight times for 55 yards and a touchdown. Brown pulled off a tremendous 19-yard rush by stopping short on an off-tackle run, reversing field and carrying the ball down to the one-yard line before rumbling into the end zone on the next play.
» Sophomore Kelvin Taylor (Blue) only got five total touches in the scrimmage (one reception for no gain) but looked impressive while on the field. Faced with three defenders on his way to the goal line, Taylor juked inside to avoid all three and took the ball down to the two-yard line on an 11-yard gain. He found pay dirt on the next play for the first touchdown of the game.
» Redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel (Blue) completed 10-of-17 passes for 125 yards and 31-yard touchdown on a drag route to sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (Blue) in the first half. Robinson took Driskel’s pass across the middle and charged upfield for the score. Driskel went 0-for-3 on his first series but calmed down, made some nice passes and moved his unit nicely in both the run and pass game. Driskel finished 19-of-33 for 171 yards.
Muschamp said he was “real pleased” with how Driskel played, especially considering he had not played football all offseason until these 15 spring practices. “Probably one of the better throws he had today was a throwaway, a scramble pass in a one-minute situation before half that he threw out of bounds. Decision making and all those things will continue to improve as he processes information within what we’re trying to do. I think he’s in the shotgun and that’s what he was recruited here to do.”
» Robinson finished with five receptions for 53 yards on the afternoon and also had a fourth down conversion when he caught a pass on a curl route and took it for a first down. “I think we’re as deep as we’ve been at wideout with some guys that can make plays on the ball,” Muschamp said. “Demarcus Robinson is a home run threat on every play,” Driskel added.
» Redshirt freshman Adam Lane (Orange) compiled 64 yards on 12 carries while working with both teams. He started for Orange and saw some time with Blue after Taylor was pulled for precautionary reasons. Lane showed nice explosiveness and even dropped a shoulder on an inside run to pick up some yardage he otherwise would not have gained.
“He’s no one the players have written off, but you certainly don’t hear much about him [from the media],” Driskel said. “You never really know how good he is until you see him live. He’s a guy that not too many people are going to want to tackle. I’m rooting for him, and he’s had a really good spring.”
Added Lane about how he fits within the stable of running backs: “We all have our different types of running styles. We fit perfectly, like a puzzle, in this offense, and I think it’s going to be great next year.”
» Junior wideout Latroy Pittman did not put up big numbers on Saturday (two receptions, 31 yards) but looked strong and effective catching balls out of the slot, extending drives and making difficult receptions in tight windows.
» Senior Trenton Brown (Blue) looked perfectly capable of starting at right guard for the Gators this season. He opened the game with that very gig and impressed both in run blocking and pass protection despite spending nearly his entire career up to this point as a tackle.
“You got to get your best on the field and he’s one of our best five,” Muschamp said. “He is a big man, he moves extremely well, he’s had a really good spring, he’s improved every day.”
» For all the grief Muschamp gave Florida’s centers during his spring practice media availabilities, all looked good on Saturday. There were no noticeable snapping issues on offense but perhaps that was his motivational plan all along.
» Though he was working against the second-team defense, redshirt sophomore QB Skyler Mornhinweg (Orange) went 6-for-8 for 59 yards in the first half with a 12-yard touchdown pass to freshman WR Chris Thompson, who he found over the middle on a rollout. Thompson had to reach across his body to catch the ball but nevertheless converted the play.
» Mornhinweg compiled the drive of the game on the scrimmage’s final possession, moving the Orange side 80 yards down the field and throwing a 10-yard game-tying touchdown to walk-on tight end Bair Diamond with a couple seconds left. He finished 14-of-18 with 149 yards and two TDs.
» Freshman QB Will Grier (Orange) completed 4-of-8 passes for 35 yards in the first half but also threw a terrible interception on a miscommunication. Redshirt freshman defensive back Nick Washington (Orange) saw the ball coming his way without a receiver anywhere in sight and hauled it in before running out of bounds. Grier looked much better in the second half, though it was against second- and third-team defenders. Not only did he convert a 4th-and-9 at midfield with an 11-yard pass to Thompson, Grier threw for another first down and then ran 11 yards to start another series on consecutive plays. He was 8-for-15 for 72 yards overall.
“I don’t think they’re on the level Jeff is right now,” said Muschamp on the backup quarterbacks. “I think both of those guys have done some nice things through training camp here. The younger players taking a huge step forward in the 112 days before we report is critical, and those two guys specifically, and Jeff as well. Really important for those guys to improve. The number of at-bats they continue to have in a new offense for Skyler, in college football for Will, they’re just going to continue to get better and better.”
» Freshman TE DeAndre Goolsby (Orange) was heavily involved in the offense all day but made consecutive passes on the final drive of the game as led by Mornhinweg. He will likely be UF’s top pass catcher from the position.
» Thompson and Robinson started and kickoff and punt returner, respectively.
DEFENSE / SPECIAL TEAMS
» Senior punter Kyle Christy hit a solid 51-yard punt to open the third quarter but struggled badly on his next two attempts. Though he was reportedly playing well all spring, Christy somehow seemed to regress on the big stage as he was also just adequate in the first half. The first long snap of the game actually resulted in the ball falling between Christy’s legs (not his fault). In a real game, it would likely have resulted in a long loss or a safety.
» Redshirt sophomore kicker Austin Hardin went 4-for-4 on field goals, hitting two from distance (43, 42) as well as two others from 35 and 24 yards. He did miss an extra point in the game but appeared to do so because of a bad snap.
“I thought Austin Hardin kicked outstanding,” Muschamp said. “I think confidence. I’ve talked to a lot of mental conditioning coaches in the offseason. A golf swing and a swing of a kicker’s leg are very similar. A lot of that has to do with confidence, hitting the ball the same way all the time. No one likes to miss, but there is a such thing as a good miss if you hit it the right way and you’re not hitting it a different way every time. He’s been more consistent with his plant foot, he’s been more consistent with his swing motion of kicking through the ball and more consistent of his follow through, following [through] forward.”
» Senior safety Jabari Gorman (Blue) struggled in the secondary, committing a pass interference penalty and also finding himself in the wrong position on a couple of pass plays. He may have endangered his chances of keeping a starting job.
» Freshman cornerback Jalen Tabor, who played for both teams, and redshirt freshman safety Marcell Harris (Orange) each had some quality plays. Tabor broke up two passes and got in great position in front of redshirt senior WR Quinton Dunbar (Blue) on a fade route in the end zone, while Harris laid the smack down with some hard hits, as is his signature. Harris led Blue with six tackles (five solo) and also had a pass breakup.
“In the secondary the talent is there, we’re just a little inexperienced,” Muschamp said. “I’d rather coach a really talented, inexperienced guy than a guy we can’t play. I like where our talent level is as far as that’s concerned.”
» Junior Jonathan Bullard started at defensive tackle and showed great explosiveness, racking up two (uncredited) sacks in his limited field time on Saturday. His versatility will be key for Florida this season, especially as the natural defensive end gets more and more comfortable on the inside.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp said he believed Florida had its best Orange & Blue Debut attendance since he has been the head coach of the Gators. He was also pleased with the overall performance.
» Muschamp said Florida’s offensive players have been very receptive to offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, which is why the Gators offense has been able to pick up the new uptempo scheme so quickly and easily.
» Muschamp is excited for fans to see Florida’s quarterback run game and how it will impact the offense. Due to the non-contact nature of the spring game, the Gators were not really able to showcase that on Saturday.
» Muschamp on Roper: “I think Kurt’s just done a great job. One of the strengths, one of the reasons I hired him was the development at the quarterback position. I think the guy is really, really good. I talked to Archie Manning about the development of Eli and what he felt Kurt did for him in that process. When you’re able to talk to somebody first-hand, it really says a lot about his development at the quarterback position.”
» Muschamp on Florida’s offense as a whole: “This is probably the most complete offense we’ve had since we’ve been here just from a playmaking standpoint and a depth standpoint. Now, not as much on the offensive line. We had more depth last year on the offensive line than we have right now. Kurt is a very positive guy, and I think our players have really fed off his confidence and his energy. They really have a true belief in what we’re trying to do.”
» Muschamp on not going for a two-point conversion at the end of the game: “I wanted to kick as many times as we could today.”
» Muschamp on there being no serious injuries in the spring: “[Breathes heavily] We still got to get them out of the locker room.”
» Announced attendance: 35,834.