On a HOT Saturday in Gainesville, I went down to The Swamp to watch the Orange/Blue spring football game. Although scores do not matter so much regarding this game, I'll point out that the Orange and Blue teams tied at 23. Fending off the scorching April heat, I was able to last through most of the game and make some key observations about the Gator football team.
In the quarterback competition, I'd say redshirt junior Jeff Driskel has secured his spot as the starter for the 2014 season. If I was to make a QB depth chart, it would be Jeff Driskel, Skyler Mornhinweg, and then Will Grier. Let me tell you why. Driskel got all the snaps for Team Blue and after going 0-3 on his first series, he went on to complete 19 passes on 33 attempts. He finished the game with 171 yards, one touchdown pass, and NO interceptions! It seems Driskel's leg has healed just fine as he also rushed ten times for 34 yards. Driskel's health and athleticism will be vital this upcoming season for the new up tempo offense that Kurt Roper is installing. Besides Driskel, I was very impressed with redshirt sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg. Getting only 63 pass attempts in three games last year, Mornhinweg threw 18 passes and completed 14 of them for 149 yards. He had the most touchdown passes (two) among the three Gator QB's and looked much more confident than he did in any game last year. I know I have stated in previous articles that true freshman Will Grier looked like a lock for the #2 spot on the depth chart, but Mornhinweg's play impressed me greatly. Speaking of Grier, he did alright in his first live game action as a Gator. He had 15 passing attempts, the least amount of all three QB's, and completed eight of his passes for 72 yards and no touchdowns. However, he did also throw the only interception of the game. From an optimistic viewpoint, I wouldn't view Grier's performance today in much of a negative light considering he graduated high school early to practice with the team. He's a kid playing among men out there! Like Skyler Mornhinweg last year, with some experience and repetition, Will Grier will soon find himself ready to lead the Gator football team when his number is called.
Besides the quarterbacks, the receivers and running backs were also competing for their respective starting jobs on the Gator football team. Sophomores Chris Thompson and Bair Diamond led the way for Team Orange as they combined for 60 receiving yards and caught one touchdown a piece. Team Blue's receiving leaders were redshirt senior Quinton Dunbar and sophomores Ahmad Fullwood and Demarcus Robinson. Dunbar and Fullwood each caught four passes combing for 74 yards. Robinson had 45 yards on three receptions and caught Team Blue's only touchdown pass. In the running game, I was surprised to see sophomore Kelvin Taylor only get four carries. Sure, he rushed for a touchdown and 29 yards, but I thought the probable #1 on the running back depth chart would get more than just four carries in the spring game. Taylor was on Team Orange, who relied mostly on redshirt senior Mack Brown. Brown carried the ball eight times for 56 yards and one touchdown and did have an impressive 19 yard run that put the Gators on the goal line (this would be the same drive that he would score his touchdown). Team Blue used a running back who I had never heard of before by the name of Adam Lane. Lane, a redshirt freshman, rocking Emmitt Smith's #22, rushed for 37 yards and no touchdowns on eight carries. His play impressed me, and I think the Gators can develop a solid running attack between Taylor, Brown, and Lane.
Both defenses did a great job in this game by giving up only 23 points each. Before I break down the defensive statistics, let me just say that they are a little confusing to analyze as many players played on both teams. To keep it simple, I'll only be looking at how players performed solely on Team Orange or Team Blue instead of how they did on both teams. If I had to pick, I'd give a slight edge to Team Blue as the better defensive squad as they tallied two sacks, the lone interception of the game, five tackles for loss, and 29 tackles. Redshirt freshman Marcell Harris led Team Blue with six of these tackles, Nick Washington was the benefactor of a Will Grier interception in the first quarter, and sophomore Alex McCalister and freshman Taven Bryan accounted for the two sacks. Even though they were beat in nearly every defensive category, Team Orange did oust Team Blue in tackles with 32 and total yards given up with just 294. Team Orange's tackling leader was sophomore Jarrad Davis. I actually remember talking to Davis during summer of my freshman year and can say he is a very cool person. It is great to see him excelling on the football field! Despite leading in tackles, Team Orange only had one sack, which came from redshirt freshman Jay-nard Bostwick. Both Gator defenses flew around the field today and only gave up 606 yards of total offense. This leaves me very optimistic that this Gator defense will do just fine in a conference as tough as the SEC.
From a special teams standpoint, redshirt sophomore kicker Austin Hardin has shown improvement. He nailed all three of his field goal attempts (the longest being 43 yards) and went 2-3 for on his extra point attempts (the snap was mishandled before his second EXP attempt). Redshirt senior Kyle Christy punted the ball four times today for a total of 166 yards with his longest punt being 51 yards. None of those punts were returned for touchdowns and none of the two kickoff returns resulted in Gator touchdowns either.
My final thoughts leaving Gator spring football are very positive ones. Driskel looked good in Roper's up tempo offense and seemed to see the field much better than he did last year. The Gator's 2014 running game can be deadly if everyone stays healthy. The same can be said for a receiving core whose only veterans seem to be Quinton Dunbar and Ahmad Fullwood. Defensively, I believe the Gators have a top-tier SEC defense that will stymie many opponents in 2014. Special teams looked great as well as all the field goal attempts were made and no punts were blocked or mishandled for the most part (Christy mishandled his first punt of the game). If the Gators can avoid the injury bug, 2014 can produce special things for the football team. I'm not saying they're gonna win a National Championship or even the SEC, but they're definitely not going 4-8 again.
*All stats accredited to Gatorzone.com