I was intrigued by this game as soon as I heard in last year's bowl matchup against ECU that the Gators would see them again in 2015. I thought after the loss of wide receiver Justin Hardy and quarterback Shane Carden that this would be a much weaker Pirates team. I was wrong.
The Florida secondary was dominated by junior wideout Isaiah Jones as he hauled in 14 receptions for 135 yards and a touchdown. His QB, fellow junior Blake Kemp, threw for 333 yards and 3 touchdowns while completing 34 passes on 54 attempts. I will say it did help ECU that star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was not playing in this game due to an injury he sustained in practice on the Thursday before the game.
Despite ECU's dynamic passing attack, their run game was completely shut down by the Gator defense as they rushed for -13 yards. Linebackers Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison led the way with 13 total tackles and a combined 3.5 tackles for loss (2.5 for Davis and 1.0 for Morrison). The next best Gator tackler was sophomore Nick Washington, who had nine.
On the defensive line, junior Joey Ivey dominated as he had three sacks and forced the game-sealing fumble for Florida. Ivey's forced fumble could not have been bigger as ECU was on the Florida 13-yard line with less than 20 seconds to go. There is a good chance that without the turnover, ECU would have tied the game and forced overtime.
In addition to Ivey, defensive backs Marcus Maye and Duke Dawson forced one fumble a piece. These two did a good job stepping up in a secondary without its best player, and their solid play rubbed off on the rest of the DB's as sophomore cornerback Jalen Tabor had a pick six (with two pass breakups) and senior safety Brian Poole broke up three passes. Without another strong showing from the defense, it would have been yet another disappointing loss in the Swamp.
Now on to the offense. In Game Two of the McElwain Era, it was still fun to watch. The Gators gained a total of 373 offensive yards and to me, Will Grier has earned the starting QB spot. Let me break down Grier's game. Playing in eight drives, the redshirt freshman completed 10 of 17 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns. His lone interception came off a dropped pass from receiver Alvin Bailey that deflected right to ECU defensive back Bobby Fulp.
After a three and out on his first drive, Grier looked good. He was not in for the fourth quarter but I believe he is one step closer to securing the starting job if he has not already. For comparison purposes, Treon Harris completed 5 of his 8 passes for 54 yards and no touchdowns in 4 drives of action. To me, the job is Grier's.
I do not think Coach Mac should go with the two QB approach vs the Kentucky Wildcats on the road. There needs to be rhythm on offense and pulling Grier or Harris disrupts their flow. I have heard talk that this approach will be used next game but regardless, I think Will Grier will see substantial playing time again barring a catastrophic meltdown in practice.
Speaking of meltdowns, Coach Mac absolutely lost it on running back Kelvin Taylor. Here is what happened. With a little under seven minutes left in the game, Kelvin scored a touchdown to put the Gators up 14 points. As a celebration, he decided to do a throat slashing sign and was promptly flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. It cost the Gators 15 yards on the ensuing kickoff and Coach Mac was LIVID (Warning: NSFW).
He absolutely laid in to Kelvin when the junior reached the sideline and left all those around him just stunned in silence. In my opinion, Coach Mac had every right to be mad at Kelvin. In a close game with some time left in the fourth quarter, committing dumb penalties that help out the other team is not the best thing to do. It was selfish what Kelvin did and it could have cost Florida the game.
Now some people want to make this a racial issue with a white coach yelling at a black player. That's absurd. Coach Mac was doing his job, which is to win football games. He did not physically hit Kelvin or call him anything offensive. Coach Mac had the best interests of Kelvin and Gator football in mind when he went off.
Now in hindsight, Coach Mac is very remorseful and wishes it could have gone down a different way. According to Kelvin, there are no hard feelings. Check out what he tweeted the day after:
Whether or not Kelvin actually feels this way is not for me to decide, but I do believe he learned from this incident and will not commit another dumb penalty like it anytime soon. Likewise, I believe Coach Mac learned from his outburst too and will become a better coach from it.I love coach Mac!!! He's going make me a better person Got nothing , but respect for him! #GatorNation 🐊🐊— KT21 (@Kelvintaylor21) September 13, 2015
Now back to the stats. Stupid penalty aside, Kelvin ran well as he led all Florida running backs with 16 carries, 55 rushing yards, and a touchdown. Behind him the two freshmen Jordans combine for 13 carries and 71 yards (9 rushes and 47 yards for Cronkrite and 4 rushes and 24 yards for Scarlett).
In the air, junior Demarcus Robinson led all receivers with five receptions while catching one touchdown. He finished the game with 55 receptions and made four of his catches on a monster drive in the middle of the third quarter that ended with his touchdown reception.
The leader in receiving yards for the night, however, was sophomore tight end DeAndre Goolsby. He had 94 receiving yards on three catches with one touchdown. The final receiver I will mention is sophomore Brandon Powell, who had three receptions (one of them being a nice catch) and 24 receiving yards.
It is a good thing the offense was competent tonight, because the kicking aspect of special teams was horrendous. Redshirt junior kicker Austin Hardin made just one of his three kicks with the make coming from 37 yards out and the misses from 34 and 35 yards out. I am hoping it is just early season woes as I am not ready for another brutal year of field goal misses.
On a positive note, redshirt sophomore punter Johnny Townsend punted five balls for 216 yards and an average of 43.2 yards per punt. He pinned ECU inside their own 20-yard line once.
At the end of the day, a win is a win. The Gators are 2-0 and were able to stave off an ECU team set out on revenge after losing 28-20 to Florida in the 2015 Birmingham Bowl. The win is definitely embarrassing and ugly, but it is much better than losing. One other thing to note, the Florida Gators are unranked. They are not like #6 Auburn who needed overtime to beat Jacksonville State.
I for one knew this game vs ECU would be close with Florida eventually pulling out a small double digit win. Yes Florida looked bad, but I rather have this happen early in the season than later. With their escape in the Swamp, Florida can now focus on extending their 28-game winning streak vs the hated Kentucky Wildcats (2-0) in Lexington.
I am no oblivious fan. This is going to be a close game. Florida won just 24-7 two years ago in Lexington and escaped with a 36-30 home victory in triple overtime last year. If Florida plays how they did vs ECU AND Vernon Hargreaves III does not play again, Kentucky will end a winning steak that started in 1987.
The Wildcats are not a punching bag anymore and Florida is not the powerhouse it used to be. I am not saying Kentucky is going to win, but Gator fans do not be surprised if they give Florida good fight until the very end. Game time is at 7 p.m. and it can be seen on the SEC Network. I hope I will get to watch it considering I will be in Charleston, South Carolina, for my fraternity's formal that weekend. I will figure it out, I always do.
Anyways, after suffering their first loss of the year, ECU (1-1) will head to Annapolis to play the Navy Midshipmen (1-0). This will be a good game, but I believe that ECU will come out on top. Game time is set for 3:30 p.m.
*All stats accredited to Gatorzone.com & Winsipedia.com