For a Florida Gators team still searching for effective offense since the departure of Tim Tebow, Saturday’s 61-13 win over the New Mexico State Aggies at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, showed that the Gators may very well have the talent and scheme to get things done under new head coach Jim McElwain
Though the test was not tough, Florida passed with flying colors and won its 26th consecutive season opener, the longest active streak in the nation. Here are five takeaways from the victory.
May need another week to decide: Sophomore quarterback Treon Harris got the start for the Gators, looking spiffy as he used his athleticism to lead two long drives and convert touchdowns on two of three series to open the game. But redshirt freshman Will Grier took advantage of his opportunity as well, throwing the ball with tremendous accuracy and flashing his running ability while leading Florida to three first-half touchdowns.
Harris opened the contest 7-of-7 for 119 yards, converting a four-play, 63-yard drive (37-yard touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Brandon Powell) and eight-play, 89-yard drive (43-yard pass to junior running back Kelvin Taylor, who rumbled in from nine yards out for a rushing score).
Grier responded in kind, putting the ball in the end zone on a five play, 50-yard drive (12-yard pass to redshirt freshman tight end C’yontai Lewis) and then leading a six-play, 74-yard drive, including a 38-yard keeper up the middle and 23-yard pass to freshman WR Antonio Callaway; Grier finished the drive on his own with a four-yard scamper score. Between the two touchdowns, Grier lost a fumble on a sack, but that was merely a blip on his night. He ran the two-minute drill to end the opening half, moving 75 yards on seven plays, the last of which was a 32-yard touchdown toss to Lewis.
By the end of the contest, Grier (15 of 17, 164 yards, 2 TD, 43 rushing yards, rushing TD) was the more efficient, but Harris (14 of 19, 215 yards, 2 TD, 23 rushing yards) was right there and absolutely made his case. Florida will likely use the East Carolina game to make a final decision between these signal callers
Tight ends get it done but love gets shared: Lewis (2 receptions, 44 yards, 2 TD), redshirt freshman DeAndre Goolsby (3 receptions, 38 yards) and redshirt senior Jake McGee (two receptions, 18 yards) led the way Saturday as the Gators’ most effective pass catchers. Overall though, 12 players caught the ball including Powell (2 receptions, team-high 50 yards, TD), junior WR Demarcus Robinson (team-high 5 receptions for 32 yards), Callaway (3 receptions for 26 yards) and redshirt senior transfer Josh Grady (1 reception for 25 yards).
Though Florida’s receivers still left some to be desired, specifically junior WR Ahmad Fulwood who dropped a perfectly-placed seam pass by Grier that may have resulted in a touchdown, the Gators showed a vast improvement in the passing game.
So far, so good: Redshirt junior kicker Austin Hardin displayed a strong leg Saturday, something McElwain mentioned impressed him during fall practice. Though Hardin did not have to kick too far on his 34- and 36-yard field goal makes, he boomed multiple kickoffs deep into the end zone, including one out the back and another off the crossbar of the field goal post. The last coaching staff did not allow Hardin to kick the ball off, supposedly because he did not have a strong enough leg. That may have been the case then, but it is no longer. As long as Hardin can prove he’s accurate from beyond 45 yards, a question mark for Florida since the departure of Caleb Sturgis may finally be solved.
No problems on the ground: In addition to Grier’s 43 yards and Harris’s 23 yards, eight other plays ran the ball, including all three of Florida’s primary running backs. Taylor finished with 54 yards and a score on eight carries, Freshman Jordan Scarlett took eight touches for 34 yards and a touchdown, and freshman Jordan Cronkrite totaled 26 carries and a touchdown on five touches. By no means should New Mexico State’s defensive line be considered any sort of legitimate opposition, but it was evident from watching the rushers that they all bring talent and a solid skill set to the table.
Just a slip up: Florida’s defense will likely be great, if not one of the best in the nation, this season. However, during the second quarter, the Gators got exposed on a handful of occasions by the Aggies both up front and in the secondary. Considering Florida was missing both of its starting safeties and its top pass rusher – plus the Gators shutout their opponent over the other three quarters – it is likely much ado about nothing. Still, there will be some teachable moments to come from that second 15 minutes.