Another year has passed and here we are back at the start of another Florida football season. For me, this is the most excited I’ve been in quite some time, probably dating back to the Urban Meyer years. I don’t know, maybe it’s the fact that expectations are extremely high despite the Gators being ranked No. 25 preseason polls.
I figured that this team, fresh off an SEC East title and with an extra year of experience under head coach Jim McElwain, would get more respect. But I’ve always been a firm believer of “it’s not where you begin the race but where you finish.” If the Gators take care of business on the field, they will find themselves back in Atlanta for the second straight year in the SEC Championship Game.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the UMass game. My take on Florida’s Week 1 effort may be a little different many of those I’ve spoken with. A lot of you were very disappointed that the Gators did not play up to their capabilities and blow out the Minutemen. There were grumblings that the run game did not produce and the offense stuck with dink-and-dunk passes and refused to go over the top for explosive plays.
First thing’s first: They won. I could give two shits if it’s by one point or by 100. A win is a win. I would much rather win a game ugly than lose a game pretty and possibly be in a position of another team like, eh, LSU … or how about Oklahoma? When I played, which might seem like ages ago, not every running play went for a first down. Not every passing play went for a touchdown. It is impossible to live up to every person’s expectations. Even though this team went to Atlanta last year, there’s a ton of new players and plenty of inexperience. You can’t expect a young quarterback who hasn’t played in a live game in two year to hit every throw and not make mistakes. As good as Luke Del Rio has been in the offseason and during camp, it doesn’t mean that it will automatically transfer over to games immediately. These things take time, and that’s hard for the normal fan from the outside looking in to understand.
Still, this team still has a lot of work to do. There were missed assignments, quite a few missed tackles and a lot of missed opportunities. It was far from a perfect performance, that’s for sure, and it was frustrating to watch sometimes.
Regardless, there were a lot of bright spots Saturday night worth mentioning.
I was downright impressed the speed and awareness of linebacker Alex Anzalone. It seemed like every time I looked up either he or Jarrad Davis were making a tackle. Separately, these guys are great game-changing players. Together, they are offensive game plan altering nightmares. Both Anzalone and Davis have incredible sideline-to-sideline speed, and both hit like Mack trucks. These guys are going to be a serious problem for teams moving forward this season, as long as they can stay healthy.
While I don’t think the offensive line as a whole had a great day in the run game, I was really impressed with both Martez Ivey and David Sharpe in the passing game. Del Rio dropped back over 40 times Saturday and there was not a lot of pressure from the left side of the line. It looks like both guys have worked very hard in the offseason after some rough outings last year. I’ve always been a fan of Ivey. He reminds me of a guy I played with in the past, Kenyatta Walker, only more athletic. And if you remember correctly, Yatta was the 13th pick of the 2001 NFL Draft.
I’m excited to see the improvement the Gators make this upcoming weekend for two reasons in particular. One, it’s always been a rule that the biggest improvement in any sport comes from Week 1 to Week 2. Two, Florida is already in SEC play against Kentucky. While the Gators are favored to win by double digits, they cannot take this as a cake walk. If you remember correctly, the Wildcats almost came into The Swamp won two years ago; they would have done just that if not for Demarcus Robinson’s heroics. (It was my son’s first game in The Swamp and he damn near had a heart attack.) While it’s important that Coach McElwain see drastic improvement this week, let not forget that the most important thing — good, bad or ugly — is to win.