Sunday, September 6, 2015

McElwain Era Starts Off On the Right Note

The Jim McElwain Era is off to a good start after Florida's 61-13 drubbing of the New Mexico State Aggies. For the first time in two years, I actually enjoyed watching a Florida Gator football game. There was no predictable offensive play calling, the offense was actually fun to watch, and receivers caught the ball! Even more encouraging, the Gators totaled 606 offensive yards! Florida would have been lucky to even reach half that number last year.

In the ongoing QB battle between sophomore Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier, I would give the immediate edge to Grier. He finished the night 15 of 17 for 164 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed four times for 43 yards and one touchdown with his longest rush being 38 yards. His only mistake was a fumble in the first half that led to a New Mexico State touchdown on the ensuing drive.

Even though I would prefer Grier to start next week against ECU, I will say that Treon played well enough to keep his name in consideration for the starting job. The second year QB completed 14 of 19 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 23 yards on five attempts. Coach Mac has a hard decision to make, but I am all in on Will Grier.

For me, Grier brings a freshness to Gator football that I just do not feel with Treon. He is the prototypical QB at 6'2 201 lbs and has a good zip on his ball. He also is not afraid to use his legs and stiff arm defenders to gain a few extra yards. In my opinion, the offense will be more efficient with Grier under center. Ask Texas A&M or Florida State about what can happen when you throw a redshirt freshman in as the starting QB.

Conversely, Treon brings a year of experience to the table but is 5'11 195 lbs. I also have questions on Harris's durability as he might not be built to sustain as many hits as Grier. Again, this is Coach Mac's decision to make and I am just giving my opinion on the matter.

On the ground, junior running back Kelvin Taylor will not have to shoulder all of the work load as true freshmen Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett looked dynamic tonight. Together, the three backs combined for 112 yards (54 for Taylor, 34 for Scarlett, 24 for Cronkrite) and three touchdowns (one a piece). With this much depth at the running back position in a league as tough as the SEC, the Gators should always have a fresh set of legs ready at all times.

Evaluating the receiving core, 14 Gators had at least one reception. Eight of these players were purely receivers. Junior Demarcus Robinson led the way with five receptions but sophomore Brandon Powell had the most receiving yards with 50 on just two receptions with one touchdown. Sophomore C.J. Warton was the only other Gator receiver with a touchdown.

The three Gator tight ends were highly effective tonight as redshirt senior Jake McGee (18), sophomore DeAndre Goolsby (38), and redshirt freshman C'yontai Lewis (44) combined for 100 receiving yards. McGee had two receptions, Goolsby had three receptions, and Lewis had three receptions with two of them being touchdowns.

The production from the tight end position in this game is really encouraging as it expands the Gator offensive tremendously. If offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier ran a tandem consisting of McGee, Goolsby, or Lewis, it would give the defense even more to worry about. The ideal goal to me is to run the double tight end offense that the Patriots ran with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. If the Gators have two legitimate threats at the tight end position, it takes the focus off of the wide receivers and the running backs.

I would also like to add that I am very happy to see transfer player Jake McGee out on the gridiron for his sixth and final year after suffering a broken fibula and tibia that ended his season in the first game last year. I expect him to be the go-to tight end with Goolsby and Lewis fighting for the number two spot.

Defensively, Geoff Collins and his "psycho defense" held New Mexico State to 200 total offensive yards. Stud All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III kicked off his third and (most likely final) year in a big way as he recorded an interception (which he almost took to the house) and registered four total tackles.

Hargreaves served as the primary punt returner as he fielded eight punts and was even used on offense for a play as he caught a pass for six yards! Despite being burned on one play, VH3 and his secondary were on point as always as they broke up four passes and locked down the Aggies' receivers.

Among the tackling leaders for the Gator defense was junior linebacker Alex Anzalone and sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor with five tackles a piece (one for loss for Tabor). Tabor also led the secondary with two pass breakups. The Gator defensive line asserted its dominance tonight with three sacks and four tackles for loss. Two of these sacks came from redshirt freshman Justus Reed and were also the first two of his college career while the final sack came from senior Jonathan Bullard.

Even with Muschamp's departure to Auburn, the Gator defense was still flying around and making plays. They will be even more fun to watch once defensive lineman Alex McCalister and safety Marcus Maye return next week from suspension. The offense will be even more loaded as well when senior receiver Latroy Pittman returns from his suspension. The team as a whole looked good tonight.

Before I forget, special teams was on point tonight too. Redshirt junior Austin Hardin made both of his field goal attempts with the longest being 36 yards out. He had 10 touchbacks on 11 kickoffs and had just one extra point blocked. Solid play from special teams is going to be huge for the Gators this year, and tonight was a step in the right direction.

Now I know this is New Mexico State and the Gators were supposed to blow them out, but I cannot help but be excited about this year. I know the ceiling for wins rests at about eight, but I am just happy that the Gators are fun to watch again. The days of anemic offenses and getting bailed out by the defense are hopefully dead and gone for good.

With the first win of Coach Mac's coaching career at Florida in the books, it is time to turn to next week's opponent in the Eastern Carolina Pirates (1-0). ECU is coming off a victory over the Towson Tigers (0-1) and is looking to avenge its loss to the Gators in the 2014 Birmingham Bowl. This should be a good game, but the Gators will ultimately win in a convincing fashion. Game time is set for 7 p.m in the Swamp.

As for New Mexico State (0-1), they will look to earn their first win of the season with a home game against the Georgia State Panthers (0-1) next Saturday at 8 p.m.

*All stats accredited to

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