A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell joined OnlyGators.com in 2012 as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team. He has returned to continue sharing his musings through the 2013 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 of those contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.
While some may think the Florida started slow on Saturday, scoring just 24 points against a Toledo team that really struggles defensively, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with how the Gators looked overall.
Those of you that read this column know I predicted that Florida’s offense and defense would both be rather “vanilla” on Saturday and that is basically what happened no matter what the coaches want to claim.
Offensively, especially for playing with a toned-down game plan, the Gators executed quite efficiently. There were two 10-play, 80-plus yard drives in the first half alone.
It really seems that the strength of this year’s team, as it was last year, is the offensive line. Not having been able to watch practice, I was curious to see how this group would gel with so many parts having changed after last season. As an offensive lineman myself, I can definitely say I was thoroughly impressed with these gentlemen.
Mack Brown had over 100 yards rushing, Jeff Driskel had ample time to find open receivers and there were very few penalties tagged on this group.
It generally takes a few games for an offensive line to start clicking as well as the Gators’ line did on Saturday, especially when there’s new starters. That Florida line looked as if it was already in midseason form from the opening snap of the game.
While the passing game was decent – all respect goes to Driskel for his performance – it is fair to say that everyone was left wanting to see the kind of explosive plays that the Gators are going to need to take that step forward this season.
There was hope that Florida would really open things up vertically and give some of the young, inexperienced wideouts a chance to spread their wings against this non-conference opponent. Even though the game plan was expected to be simple, more vertical passes could certainly have been called.
People tend to give Trey Burton a lot of grief but to see him making big plays again was certainly a positive takeaway from the game. He and Driskel appear to work well together, and he was obviously the most targeted receiver on Saturday.
Watching the defense on Saturday, one would not know that eight starters – including the entire middle of the defense – had departed in the offseason. It was a great overall effort by everyone involved.
It looked like Dominique Easley was in the backfield on almost every snap. He’s what NFL coaches like to call a disruptive defensive tackle. Easley causes so much penetration so quickly that it disrupts blocking schemes and forces plays to bounce outside or go to a different gap than they were intended to be run towards. Losing Sharrif Floyd to the NFL was certainly a blow for the Gators’ defense, but if Easley can play at this level than Florida will be just fine.
While all are anxiously awaiting the return of Antonio Morrison in the middle, many seem to be overlooking what Neiron Ball did Saturday on the outside. He played very well against the run and showed great range to be out on the field on third down situations. He and Morrison on the field together surrounded by Ronald Powell, Dante Fowler, Jr., Michael Taylor and the rest of the rotational players will make a very formidable unit.
It is quite fair to be frustrated with the suspension of Loucheiz Purifoy, especially the school not announcing it until the day of the game, but Gator Nation did get to see a bit more of the future in Vernon Hargreaves III than it might have otherwise. The highlight play, of course, was his interception – yes, it was awesome – but what stood out to me was his aggressiveness in man coverage.
I had previously watched him play a few high school games in my hometown of Tampa, FL. He was as good as advertised then, and he started validating all of the hype on Saturday. It will be exciting to see how good this young man will be and what Florida’s secondary is going to look like when Purifoy is on the field with him and Marcus Roberson. (Not to take away from Jaylen Watkins, who also had a great game.)
Next up for the Gators is a familiar foe and a tough road test as Florida will travel to square off against Miami, a team that may be overlooked by some. “Vanilla” just ain’t gonna cut it against the Canes, so focus on how much more the Gators open up their playbook in order to pull out the important victory against an in-state rival in their last meeting in the foreseeable future.