Image Credit: ESPNI
This is neither what fans wanted nor what the No. 25 Florida Gators expected. How could it be?
To think that Florida, fresh off a season head coach Jim McElwain referred to as equal parts disappointing and embarrassing, would open 2016 playing the way it did against the UMass Minutemen is almost mindboggling … until you remember it’s the Gators.
Twenty two months after Will Muschamp was fired, Florida resembled the team he left: dominant but undisciplined defense with a lacking offense, weak offensive line and quarterback issues.
Here are five things we learned from the Gators’ season-opening 24-7 win.
1. Only one question has been answered: Florida undoubtedly left McElwain scratching his head Saturday night as the Gators coach tries to figure out how a team billed with more offensive firepower and improved discipline could play the way it did at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The only thing McElwain does know should at least help put his mind at ease: He has a kicker. In the first game action of his career at any level, redshirt sophomore Eddy Pineiro hit all four of his field goal attempts (well, technically three since McElwain took one off the board), two from 49 and 48 yards, respectively. Those are not chip shots. Pineiro was calm and confident lined up to put points on the scoreboard, and while we’ve yet to see him tested in a tough road environment, his ability to put the ball through the uprights (and out of the end zone on kickoffs) should inspire confidence.
2. Same problems remain: As mentioned previously, Florida did not look like a changed program on Saturday. It committed an absurd eight penalties for 80 yards — most of them in the first half — extending multiple UMass drives and erasing big-time plays due to boneheaded miscues. Its coach refused to stick to the run when it was obviously working, especially late in the game. The Gators were unable to get into a rhythm offensively with shaky quarterback play (more on that in a minute) and only hit one semi-explosive play against a lackluster opponent. The offensive line did not appear as if it took a step forward as it missed key blocks and made redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio pay as he took big hit after big hit while exposed. McElwain swatted the unit for “mop[ing] around” and not “hustling” between plays, noting that their energy was infectious to the offense.
3. Quarterback issue unsolved: Del Rio needed 29 passes and 44 attempts to amass 265 yards on Saturday. He dinked and dunked all over the field, well, in between throwing behind receivers and tossing a handful of passes that nearly resulted in turnovers. Ultimately though, Del Rio had a clean sheet (despite a strip sack in which he recovered the ball) and tossed two touchdowns on the evening. McElwain said after the game that Del Rio solidified himself as Florida’s starter but noted that the signal caller “played OK” and could “play better” in the future. Del Rio could probably grow into a role as a game manager for the Gators, but fans who had high hopes for a dynamic playmaker may need to temper those expectations.
4. Florida needs its horses: If the Gators are going to beat some significantly more talented teams, well, they’re going to need their full complement of players. In addition to the five suspensions, including starting cornerback junior Jalen Tabor and potential starting tight end redshirt sophomore C’yontai Lewis, UF saw two important players go down with injury on Saturday. Junior transfer wide receiver/returner Dre Massey suffered an undisclosed injury in the contest and barely saw the field. Junior defensive back Duke Dawson hurt his arm and will need to be further evaluated. UF is still building depth and developing talent. It simply cannot afford to have important players miss time.
5. Thunder and lightning: Forget looking like Thor, redshirt junior linebacker Alex Anzalone plays like the Norse mythological figure. If Saturday was any indication, Anzalone has not lost a step. He was in the offensive backfield milliseconds after the snap. He swatted balls, ran down rushers, disrupted passing lanes and was simply all over the field. Senior LB Jarrad Davis flashed, too, but that was no surprise given his 2015 campaign. The importance of Anzalone and Davis in the middle of the Gators defense cannot be overstated, and they each lived up to their billing on Saturday.
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) September 4, 2016