What we learned: Florida football is fun again in 2018 Orange & Blue Debut

By Adam Silverstein
April 14, 2018
What we learned: Florida football is fun again in 2018 Orange & Blue Debut

As far as spring football games are concerned, it’s difficult to truly have that many legitimate, long-lasting takeaways. The roster is split, alumni get involved and the head coach is rarely serving as more than a figurehead watching his players and assistant coaches go through the motions for four quarters.

Despite all of that, the 2018 Orange & Blue Debut was clearly a success for the Florida Gators — even if all it accomplished was putting some long-lost smiles on the faces of fans and players. Let’s take a look at what went down on Saturday afternoon inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

1. Fun returns to The Swamp: It cannot be overstated how different it felt watching this spring game. Not only did Florida split rosters and play competitively early on, it was clear from the get-go that Gators head coach Dan Mullen wanted the fans and players to have fun over the two hours of action. Former Florida players Lawrence Wright and Travis McGriff cherry picked with a pair of wide-open touchdowns over the course of the game, and points found their way on the scoreboard throughout the game. Mullen’s demand request for fans to show out was obviously heard, and though The Swamp was not packed to the gills, the Gator Nation responded in droves with about 53,000 fans in attendance. UF also claims there were about 170 former players in town for the game. “To see that type of support was really special to me today,” Mullen said afterwards, also noting that the Gator Walk was packed and the players noticed.

It was the first time in a while that you could see a true passion for Gators football again, and Mullen deserves major praise for getting that done. The players were even allowed to perform touchdown celebrations, including a rousing game of “Duck, Duck, Goose.”

2. An edge but no final answer in the quarterback battle: The completion and yardage stats are largely irrelevant, but in terms of actual play, we saw flashes from all three of the quarterbacks primarily in the competition — redshirt sophomores Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, along with freshman Emory Jones. Ultimately, though, there was no final answer to be had on the day. The primary takeaway? This is going to be a Franks vs. Trask battle over the summer, though it would not be a surprise to see both play in the fall.

Trask appeared to be in control of the Blue team out of the gate, making a number of top-notch passes while seemingly comfortable in a pocket, even when he did not get a lot of time. For every two passes Trask drilled, he sailed one. Perhaps most importantly was the variety of balls Trask was capable of completing as he hit crossing plays, back-shoulder throws and out routes. He completed 12-of-24 passes for 178 yards with a touchdown.

Franks actually hit on 8-of-12 passes, totaling 117 yards and a passing score to go along with two rushing touchdowns and a rule-enabled 60-yard gain with his legs. Jones was just 3-of-7 passing for 93 yards but tossed touchdowns on two of those three passes and delivered some sharp balls despite more overthrows than either of his competitors. They combined to score all five of the Orange team’s touchdowns in the 35-30 win.

Mullen said he expected more of his quarterbacks and hopes to see further improvement in the near future. “I saw some really good things; I saw some missed, really simple things,” he noted. “I want to see a lot more from them moving forward.”

3. The running backs are impressive: If any one position was to receive an MVP award coming out of Saturday, it was Florida’s stable of running backs. Senior Jordan Scarlett looked like his old self taking 10 carries for 57 yards and two scores. His 27-yard run down the right sideline was particularly impressive. Sophomore Lamical Perine impressed on his six carries, and freshmen Iverson Clement and Dameon Pierce did as well with a couple strong touches each. This despite sophomores Malik Davis (knee) and Adarius Lemons (knee) not playing. Couple this success with the abilities of Franks and Jones to make plays with their legs, and the Gators look like they will have a formidable rushing attack next season.

This is not to slight the pass catchers, by the way, as sophomore wide receiver Kadarius Toney looked sharp with 50 yards on four receptions, junior WR Tyrie Cleveland had a couple nice catches, and redshirt freshman tight end Kemore Gamble looked ready to contribute with three receptions for 39 yards and a touchdown.

4. The defense looks just fine: Spring games are always tough on the defense considering they do not run their full playbook and are unable to fully go after the quarterback, but suffice to say, Florida’s defensive line did not have much of a problem getting pressure on the quarterbacks over the course of the game. (There’s probably something to be said about the Gators’ lacking offensive line here, but alas.) Sophomore cornerback C.J. Henderson broke up a difficult pass midway through the game, and redshirt freshman linebacker Ventrell Miller had a hard hit on Clement that let coaches know he was for real this year. Freshman safety Amari Burney was active whenever he was on the field, and Mullen even gave him props specifically during the SEC Network broadcast.

5. Jury is still out on special teams: Exit Johnny, enter Tommy. Redshirt junior punter Tommy Townsend only got two opportunities to boot the ball on Saturday, but his first went 55 yards in the air and drove an ovation from the crowd. The kicking game looked shaky, though Florida’s expected starter is not enrolled at this time. Regarding the return game, well, that was nonexistent — by plan — on Saturday. In other words, while there is plenty to (cautiously) write home about from Saturday, this is one phase of the game where a lot still remains to be seen.


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