Tuesday, September 27, 2016

UF Football: The Streak Is Over

After 11 years, the streak has finally ended. Last Saturday, the No. 19 Florida Gators (3-1, 1-1 SEC) dropped their first game of the year with a 38-28 loss to the No. 14 Tennessee Volunteers (4-0, 1-0 SEC).

This game was a tale of two halves.

In the first half, Florida was rolling. The offense was clicking behind backup quarterback Austin Appleby and the defense was stifling Tennessee. Florida's lead grew as large as 21-0 and at the half they led 21-3. It looked like a twelfth straight win was in the bag. It would be the same old story as every other year.

Then, the second half happened.

Tennessee, determined to end over a decade of frustration, came roaring back. They put up 35 unanswered points and the Gators' 18-point lead turned into a 38-21 deficit. The Florida offense had vanished. They managed four total yards of offense and failed to record a single first down in the third quarter. They would muster just one more touchdown to provide the Gator Faithful with a glimpse of hope.

When the clock expired, the grim reality began to set in. For the first time since 2004, the Tennessee Volunteers had defeated the Florida Gators in the sport of football. Fittingly enough, the Gators scored 28 points in that loss as well.

Making his first start for the Gators, back up quarterback Austin Appleby played well (at least in the first half). In the tough road environment of Neyland Stadium, the graduate transfer completed 23 of 39 passing attempts for 296 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. He also was the team's second leading rusher as he ran seven times for 24 yards.

Appleby's arm was the main source of offense as the Gator running game was nonexistent for most of the day. Out of Florida's running back quartet, only Jordan Scarlett proved to be relevant on the ground as he carried the ball 10 times for 44 yards and one touchdown. He and Appleby accounted for more than two thirds of Florida's 117 total rushing yards.

In the receiving corps, Antonio Callaway was the leading yard-getter as he hauled in four receptions for 134 yards but with no touchdowns. The leading receivers in terms of receptions were tight end DeAndre Goolsby and running back Jordan Cronkrite, who both had five receptions for 26 yards and a touchdown.

True freshman wideout Freddie Swain also made an impact as he caught his second career touchdown in the fourth quarter. He finished the game with 27 yards on two receptions. It's also worth mentioning that Brandon Powell, who had just one reception for nine yards, was ejected in the third quarter for "punching" Tennessee defensive back Rashaan Gaulden.

The offense tallied 402 total yards when it was all said and done. Appleby was sacked just twice and his interception did not come until the early stages of the fourth quarter.

One of the top-ranked defenses in the country was exposed in this game. Tennessee torched Florida for 498 total yards as the Gators allowed their first rushing touchdown of the year and four passing touchdowns.

The defense could not get to Vols' quarterback Josh Dobbs. Only managing one sack on the senior, Florida was chasing Dobbs all over the field as he ran 17 times for 91 yards and a touchdown. With his arm, Dobbs set new personal bests as he completed 16 of his 32 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns. Had Florida not picked him off twice, this game could have been a rout.

The only man to bring Dobbs down in the backfield was defensive lineman Jordan Sherit. He finished the game with eight tackles, good for third best among Gator tacklers in the contest. Ahead of Sherit, fellow defensive lineman Bryan Cox Jr. had nine tackles.

Trumping all Gators for the most tackles in this game, linebacker Alex Anzalone had 12 wrap-ups. Along side the redshirt junior in the linebacking corps, senior Jarrad Davis was also a big asset as he record seven tackles.

In the secondary, safety Marcus Maye led all defensive backs in tackles as he notched eight in the game. In regards to interceptions, both cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor had one a piece. Wilson's pick came on third and goal in the end zone to preserve Florida's 14-0 lead in the second quarter. Tabor's came at the start of the third quarter as Florida led 21-3.

The secondary only broke up two passes the whole game. Marcus Maye made a stop on fourth down and goal in the first quarter and nickelback Duke Dawson deflected a pass on third down in the second quarter.

It was incredible how Florida's defense imploded in the second half. Tennessee did what they wanted offensively and humbled a very proud Gator defensive unit.

Special Teams
Special teams from a kicking standpoint did not negatively affect the Gators on Saturday. Eddy Pineiro had no field goal attempts and nailed all four of his extra point attempts. Of his four kickoffs, three of them cleared the end zone for touchbacks.

In the punting aspect, Johnny Townsend continued to dominate. He punted eight times, averaged 48.6 yards per punt, and was able to angle one inside the Tennessee 20-yard line. Half of his punts were over 50 yards with his longest traveling 59 yards.

In the return game, there were some problems. Antonio Callaway mishandled his first punt of the game and was bailed out by his defense after a goal line stand. Fast forward to the fourth quarter, and Callaway's returning woes struck again.

Down 38-28 and needing a good return, Florida received the ultimate self-inflicted wound as Callaway backed up and called a fair catch at the two-line. This mental error baffled everybody and ultimately sealed Florida's fate.

Final Takeaway:
September 24th, 2016, was a tough day for many Gator fans. This was no average loss, it was a humbling loss delivered from a rival. The Gators grew complacent beating Tennessee every year. It became an expectation, and with that expectation the fight and desire slowly lessened.

Tennessee wanted this victory more and I give them credit for fighting back and snatching it from Florida. Their defense turned it up and stymied a Gator offense that took on a conservative, "play not to lose" mentality in the second half. On offense, the Vols capitalized on the arrogance and fatigue of the Gator defense.

Florida thought they were untouchable every third Saturday in September, and for 11 years they were. That's the thing about streaks though, they were made to be broken. How the Gators respond to this loss moving forward will shape this football team's character and attitude moving forward.

Some players are comparing this to the Ole Miss loss in 2008. After the famous Tebow speech following that game, Florida ripped through their opponents and won the school's third national championship.

Will that be the case here? Or will the Gators spiral out of control and fall out of the rankings? Only time and eight more games will tell.

The SEC East is by no means loss. If Florida wins out and Tennessee slips up against Georgia, Texas A&M, or Alabama, then the Gators are right back in the hunt for a second consecutive trip to Atlanta. It's a long season, and Florida needs to take it just one game at a time.

The Gators will look to return to their winning ways as they take on the Vanderbilt Commodores (2-2, 0-1 SEC) in Nashville on noon this Saturday. The game can be seen on the SEC Network and heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network. With Luke Del Rio still hurt, Austin Appleby will make his second start as a Florida Gator.

To no one's surprise, I have Florida bouncing back and getting an easy "W" against Vandy. Let's just hope the noon start time doesn't affect the Gators like it did in last year's 9-7 homecoming victory over the Commodores.

As for Tennessee, their fans are pretty happy up in Rocky Top after getting this monkey off their back. They can't relish in this victory too long, however, as they travel to Athens to take on the Georgia Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1 SEC) at 3:30 p.m this Saturday.

This is a huge SEC East matchup and will play a pivotal role in shaping up the divisional race as the season continues. The game can be seen on CBS, and my pick for a winner is Georgia.

*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com, & Winsepdia

Sunday, September 18, 2016

UF Football: #23 Florida Offensively Struggles Against North Texas in Trap Game

The #23 Florida Gators (3-0) concluded their three game home stretch with a 32-0 victory over the North Texas Mean Green (1-2) last night.

Florida's offensive game plan differed in this game as they ran ball 43 times compared to 29 passes. Quarterback Luke Del Rio looked a bit out of sync as he completed 14 of 25 passes for 186 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception.

Del Rio would not see the end of the game, and unfortunatley it was not because the Gators were winning by so much that Coach Mac had to pull the starters. With the score 19-0 and 1:10 left in the third quarter, Del Rio took a cheap shot to the knee and went down in agonizing pain.

The culprit was linebacker Joshua Wheeler, who for some reason felt it was necessary to go low on Del Rio in a game both he, his coach, his teammates, their fans, and UNT's athletic director knew they had no shot at winning. He was not ejected for the dirty hit, but somehow Florida's sophomore left guard Martez Ivey was tossed for this "punch":

So after some scuffling and a few thousand boos from the Gator Faithful in The Swamp, Del Rio was helped off the field and play resumed. Graduate transfer Austin Appleby was now the signal-caller for the remainder of the game. At that point, Coach Mac essentially gave up on throwing the ball as Appleby completed two of his four passes for 30 yards.

With Del Rio going down and the passing game just not clicking last night, the Gators had to rely on their running backs to grind out the victory over this C-USA opponent. Of the four running backs who played, three of them had exactly 11 carries and all of them had a rushing touchdown.

Let's start with junior transfer Mark Thompson. As the lead back for the Gators, Thompson ran for a team-high 85 yards on 11 touches with a 20-yard TD scamper in the early stages of the fourth quarter. His TD run may have been the most exciting of the night as he leaped over a UNT defender at the goal line!

Next on the leaderboard was sophomore Jordan Scarlett. With 11 carries to his name as well, Scarlett ran for 62 yards and found pay dirt with 7:15 left in the fourth quarter to cap off Florida's scoring for the evening.

Behind Scarlett was true freshman Lamical Perine. Continuing to play a pivotal role in the offensive attack, Perine made good use of his 11 rushing attempts as he ran for 57 yards and scored the second Gator touchdown of the second quarter with three minutes to go in the half.

Rounding out the ground unit, sophomore Jordan Cronkrite had the fewest carries but was actually the first of the four to score. He rushed nine times for 46 yards and found the end zone in the opening minutes of the second quarter.

In the wide receiving corps, not much can be said considering Florida's run-first approach last night. Star wideout Antonio Callaway did not even play in the game, so from the get-go Del Rio (and eventually Appleby) lacked an explosive playmaker to get the ball to.

The tight ends were finally given a bigger part in the offense, as junior DeAndre Goolsby hauled in a team-high three catches for 40 yards. He was one of three Gators to record a trio of catches.

The next Gator with three receptions was Jordan Cronkrite. Making up for his limited use at tailback, Cronkrite total 22 yards on the three balls that he caught. With a very similar yard total, junior Brandon Powell gained 20 yards on his three receptions of the night.

With those three combining for 82 receiving yards, it is worth mentioning that freshman Josh Hammond recorded nearly that whole amount on just two catches. He finished his night with 72 yards, with a chunk of those coming off a 53-yard bomb from Del Rio in the first quarter.

Despite leading 19-0 going into the fourth quarter at one point, the Gator offense still performed fairly well as a unit. They accounted for 471 total yards and 26 first downs. For red zone conversions they were five of seven, getting stopped twice on fourth down in the first half.

Geoff Collins's defense put on a historic effort in this game. They allowed just 53 total yards of offense (-13 rushing and 66 passing), which is a school record for the lowest amount of yards that a Gator team has ever allowed.

This Gator defense is SCARY good. According to what I have seen on GatorCountry.com, they rank first in scoring defense and total defense and second in rushing defense and passing defense. Yes, the opponents are of weaker proportions in UMass, Kentucky, and North Texas. However, it cannot be denied that this Gator defense has dominated every offense put in front of them.

In regards to last night's game, the defense once again feasted. On the second play of the game, Caleb Brantley broke through the line and sacked Mean Green QB Mason Fine for a safety. This was Brantley's only sack of the night, but it set the defensive tone for the game as Florida had seven sacks.

Redshirt freshman Jabari Zuniga was the team leader in this department as he reached the quarterback twice and forced a fumble. As a fellow defensive line substitution with Zuniga, true freshman Jachai Polite was able to wrestle the quarterback down once for his only tackle of the game.

Among the starters (having already mentioned the redshirt junior in Brantley), senior nose tackle Joey Ivie had half a sack, with the other half going to senior linebacker Jarrad Davis. Meeting up with Ivie at the quarterback, Davis totaled 1.5 sacks and also led the defense with six tackles.

Sharing that honor with Davis was safety Marcus Maye, who found a way to join the sack party from the secondary with one on the night. The redshirt senior also had a pass breakup as the Gator defensive backs held UNT to 6 of 22 passing with six pass breakups and one interception.

Junior cornerback Quincy Wilson led the secondary with two pass breakups and Marcell Harris recorded his first career interception. He nearly took it all the way in for a score before being flagged down at the UNT 16-yard line. It was still a great return for the redshirt junior nevertheless.

Special Teams
Yet again, special teams remained consistent. Shaking off a 1-3 performance last week, Eddy Pineiro drilled his only field goal attempt in the game from 22 yards out. The redshirt sophomore was also flawless on all three of his extra point attempts while drilling five of his six kickoffs for touchbacks.

In the punting unit, Johnny Townsend was spectacular as usual. Sending off four punts, the redshirt junior averaged 55.2 yards per kick with his longest going 59 yards. He pinned the Mean Green inside the 20-yard line just once.

In the return game, Florida could get nothing cooking as Brandon Powell returned five kicks for a total of 23 yards. UNT had a weird approach in their attempts to pin Florida as the punter would take the snap, run towards the sideline and then boot a line drive. It was effective, but still unorthodox.

Final Takeaway:
For three quarters, it was a brutal game for me to watch. Yes, the defense was exciting, but I like to see offense. It was tough watching the Gators struggle to throw the ball against a mediocre C-USA team. Callaway not playing is a viable reason for the lack of offensive production through the air, but that can't be used as an excuse for no passing touchdowns whatsoever.

Regardless, a win is a win. The AP pollsters seemed to like it as Florida is now No. 19 in the rankings. Next up is a good ol' matchup at Rocky Top with the No. 14 Tennessee Volunteers (3-0).

To heighten the stakes even more, College GameDay has decided that this is the going to be the venue where they set up shop for next weekend. The last time GameDay did the Florida-Tennessee game was 2012. Florida won that game 37-20.

Regardless if Lee Corso's headgear pick is the Gators or not, I am a firm believer that Florida will win their 12th straight game over the Vols. Luke Del Rio being out for this game definitely hurts the Gators, but it's also worth noting that Florida has been in this position before. As beat reporter Thomas Goldkamp puts it:

Here are some questions that I am interested to see get answered in the Tennessee game:

  • How will kicker Eddy Pineiro do in his first road game where the fans aren't chanting his name every time he takes the field?
  • How will Austin Appleby, who has a career record of 2-9 in 11 starts, fare in hostile Neyland Stadium against a Tennessee team determined to end this losing streak?
  • Will the defense continue their dominant trend? Or will the dual threat capability of Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs give them problems like last year?

These are just a few of many questions I have concerning the Gators going into this rivalry game. Tennessee may appear better on paper, but constantly losing to the same team every year has a draining effect on the psyche. I know this because I experienced it all too much when I played high school baseball.

Regardless, Florida did a good job surviving their trap game and will once again rip out the hearts of Tennessee fans on September 24th. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m ET. and the game can be seen on CBS. As always, it can also be heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network.

As for the the North Texas Mean Green, they will collect their $500,000 check from the University of Florida and head on down to Houston for a date with the Rice Owls (0-3). Kickoff for this C-USA matchup is at 7 p.m. ET. It can be seen on CUSAtv, if there is anyone who has that channel for some reason. I got North Texas walking out with the 'W'.

Here's my final tidbit of the article: Del Rio's injury is not season-ending (thank God). According to SEC Country, he will miss the Tennessee and Vandy games, but it is possible that he could return for LSU. Only time will tell of course, but it has to be encouraging to Gator fans knowing that Del Rio will come back at some point.

Go Gators! Let's make it 12 straight over the Vols on Saturday!

*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com, GatorCountry (for the defensive rankings), & SECCountry.



Sunday, September 11, 2016

UF Football: Gators Annihilate Kentucky for 30th Consecutive Win in Rivalry

The Florida Gators (2-0) absolutely whooped the Kentucky Wildcats (0-2) yesterday afternoon with a 45-7 thrashing in The Swamp. With yesterday's victory, the Gators have now beaten the Wildcats in 30 consecutive years!

The offense was incredible! Quarterback Luke Del Rio was hitting long passes, his offensive line was giving him all the time in the world to throw, and his receivers were catching nearly everything. Del Rio picked apart Kentucky's secondary as he torched the Cats for 320 yards and four touchdowns while completing 19 of 32 passing attempts.

Del Rio did throw his first career interception, but it was not his fault as the ball bounced off of Brandon Powell's hands into those of Kentucky cornerback Derrick Baity's. In regards to pocket awareness, Del Rio had all the time in the world to throw. He did a great job making his reads and not taking sacks as the Kentucky defense never once got to him.

On the ground, Coach McElwain made good use of Gator newcomers Lamical Perine and Mark Thompson. Perine, a true freshman, led all Florida rushers with 105 yards on 17 carries and caught his first collegiate touchdown pass on a 28-yard reception in the third quarter. His longest run was 36 yards.

Thompson, a JUCO transfer, registered the second most rushing attempts with 15 carries for 59 yards and his first D-1 touchdown. Behind Thompson, the two Jordans in Cronkrite (nine for 43 yards) and Scarlett (five for 29 yards) combined for 14 carries and 72 rushing yards with Scarlett finding the end zone in the middle of the third quarter.

In the receiving corps, Antonio Callaway was on a new level as the sophomore wideout hauled in five receptions and tallied 129 yards with one touchdown. His longest catch was a 79-yard touchdown strike from Del Rio in the last minute of the first quarter.

Joining Callaway, junior Brandon Powell had four receptions for 48 yards in the contest and scored his touchdown on a post route with less than 20 seconds left in the first half.

True freshman Freddie Swain accounted for the third receiving touchdown of the day as his only catch was a 26-yard reception on a beautifully run post corner route. This would be his first career collegiate touchdown reception. The final touchdown reception, as I mentioned earlier, went to Lamical Perine.

I could not have been more proud of this Gator offensive unit. They racked up 564 total yards of offense, converted 14 of 20 third downs, turned the ball over just once, and punted just one time the whole game!

The only moment offensively that concerned me was when Del Rio appeared to fumble on the opening drive and Kentucky ran it back for a touchdown. After review though, it was revealed to be a forward pass and Florida would end the drive with a missed field goal.

Defensively, the Gators didn't give Kentucky any breathing room whatsoever. Geoff Collins' unit allowed just 149 yards of offense from the Wildcats, forced four turnovers, and held them to three total pass completions in 14 attempts! Kentucky was only able to score in the last five minutes of the game when loudmouth running back Jojo Kemp found his way into the end zone on third and goal.

Florida's defensive line and linebacking core terrorized Kentucky's QB's as they recorded five sacks in the game. Defensive lineman Jordan Sherit led the way as he notched two sacks and was the Gators' second leading tackler with five on the day.

In front of Sherit in tackles was linebacker Alex Anzalone, who recorded six in the conteste and accounted for 1.5 sacks as well. Rounding out the list with their first career sacks were linebacker Kylan Johnson and defensive lineman Jachai Polite.

Johnson, a redshirt freshman, had 0.5 of a sack and would finish the game with three tackles. Polite, a true freshman, had one sack that served as his only tackle of the day while also forcing a fumble that Taven Bryan recovered midway through the third quarter.

In the Gator secondary, the defensive backs feasted as they picked off Kentucky three times! Cornerback Quincy Wilson struck first. Near the end of the first quarter, he snagged a one-handed interception on a long ball down the sideline to set up the Gators' first scoring drive. Next it was Jalen Tabor's turn.

With under five minutes to go in the second quarter, the best cornerback in the country picked off a Kentucky screen pass after dropping an interception on the prior play. This as well would set up a Gator touchdown.

Reeling in the third and final interception of the game, safety Marcus Maye picked off a crossing route at the start of the third quarter. Continuing the trend, this turnover also paved the way for a Gator touchdown.

The secondary embodied the very epitome of lockdown as Kentucky ran the ball 34 times compared to just 13 passing attempts. After two years of single digit victories over the Cats (one which needed triple overtime), it was really great to see the Gators get out there and end this game by the half.

Before my final analysis, let me talk about special teams real quick.

Special Teams
Eddy Pineiro showed that he was human today as he went 1-3 on his field goal attempts, missing from 42 and 48 yards out. However, the one he did make was a 54-yarder that is hands down the longest kick I have seen a UF kicker make in The Swamp!

Despite an off-day, Eddy was still money as he converted all six of his extra point attempts. Of his eight kickoffs, five of them were touchbacks with just one going out of bounds. With the whole crowd chanting "Eddy, Eddy, Eddy" every time he comes onto the field, it's quite obvious that he has become a fan favorite among the Floria Faithful.

As for the GOAT in punter Johnny Townsend, he honestly did not even need to show up to the game today. Townsend saw action just once as he entered the game to punt with less than 12 minutes in the fourth quarter. As usual though, he killed it as he booted the ball 54 yards for a touchback.

In the return game, Antonio Callaway and Freddie Swain both fielded punt and kick return duties. Callaway returned two punts for a total of three yards while Swain returned one punt for a yard. Each also had a kick return with Callaway tallying 21 yards and Swain accumulating 11 yards.

Final Takeaway:
30 straight years of victory has to feel great no matter who your opponent is. The fact that Gator football, who has seen some historically bad coaches in Ron Zook and Will Muschamp, was still able to keep their winning streak alive against Kentucky for three decades is remarkable.

The offense took huge strides from last week as the Gators did whatever they wanted to Kentucky's defense. The passing game remained a huge part of the offensive attack yesterday and was executed nearly flawlessly by Luke Del Rio.

The defense remained stout and did a fantastic job creating turnovers to set up good scoring opportunities for Del Rio and company. Even when the defense began on their own 35-yard line with a 7-0 lead in the second quarter, they held their ground and forced a missed field goal from the Wildcats.

Florida, now ranked #23 in the latest AP poll, will look to ride some serious momentum as they host the North Texas Mean Green (1-1) in the final home game of September. The Mean Green are coming off a 41-20 win over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (0-1) and should pose no threat to the Gators next Saturday.

Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. It can be seen on ESPNU and heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network.

As for Kentucky (0-2), they remain winless and head back to Lexington wondering if beating Florida is actually an attainable task. They should be able to notch their first victory of 2016 as they host the New Mexico State Aggies (1-1). Kickoff is at 4 p.m. and it can be seen on the SEC Network.

*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com

Sunday, September 4, 2016

UF Football: #25 Florida Defeats UMass in Mundane Season Opener

The No. 25 Florida Gators (1-0) kicked off 2016 with what I would consider a lackluster 24-7 victory over the UMass Minutemen (0-1) on Saturday night.

Making his first collegiate start, redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio was impressive from the quarterback position. He completed 29 of 44 passes for two touchdowns and 256 yards. He also used his legs occasionally as he scrambled six times for 11 total yards. Del Rio only took one sack the whole game and wisely threw the ball out of bounds when there was no open man.

Going off of a one-game sample, I would say that Del Rio is the guy I would like the Gators to ride or die with in 2016. I am not willing to endure another season with a dual-QB system that divides the fanbase. Del Rio has the tools to be a game manager in an offense that he has been familiar with for the last three seasons. 

If Del Rio can just get the ball to his star guys in space and avoid turning the ball over, then this will be another successful football season for the University of Florida.

It can't all fall on Del Rio's shoulders though. He needs some type of running game to take the pressure off. Looking at the Gator running back situation, Coach Mac attacked with a committee approach last night. Four Gator halfbacks rushed at least once with Jordan Scarlett receiving the bulk of the carries.

Scarlett, the sophomore out of St. Thomas Aquinas, carried the ball 13 times for 70 yards. His longest rush was 11 yards. Behind Scarlett, JUCO transfer Mark Thompson rushed six times for 22 yards in his first D-1 football game. As a unit, Florida's running backs and Del Rio ran the ball 29 times for a total of 107 yards.

A 44 pass to 29 rush ratio is a good discrepancy in my opinion. Even though it rained for a solid 10-15 minutes during the game, it was good to see Florida not abandon their passing game.

Looking at the final phase of the offense, the wide receiving corps did a good job easing Del Rio into his new role as the starting QB. Antonio Callaway was the go-to man as the sophomore nabbed a team-leading eight passes for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Keeping pace with Callaway, junior Brandon Powell caught seven passes for a team-high 73 yards and a clutch touchdown that upped the score to 17-7 midway through the fourth quarter.

Apart from the stellar play of Florida's top two wideouts, the freshmen contributed as well last night. Josh Hammond reeled in five passes for 38 yards and Freddie Swain caught 2 passes for 11 yards including a two-point conversion.

I can't recall when two Gator wide receivers had over 70 yards simultaneously. I don't doubt that it has happened during my four years here, but by no means has it been a consistent trend.

Though Florida's offense managed just 24 points and only led 10-7 entering the fourth quarter, there were many positives to take away from last tonight. Del Rio is a competent QB, Mac has a plethora of running backs to use, the wide receivers were utilized appropriately, and the offense embraced passing the ball. Florida also had 363 offensive yards in the game, which is much better than some other contests in past seasons. The points will come, it's just Week 1.

Now on to the unit that has carried the Florida Gators since my freshman year: the defense. Had Florida not fielded such a stout defense, they would either have lost this game or barely won. Besides giving up a game-tying touchdown in the second quarter on a drive that was aided by three penalties, the Gator defense shut down UMass.

Florida only gave up 187 total yards of offense while sacking UMass QB Ross Comis four times. Senior linebacker Jarrad Davis was responsible for 0.5 a sack as he led the Gator defense with nine total tackles. Following J.D. with one sack of his own was redshirt junior linebacker Alex Anzalone, who notched six total tackles in the contest.

Moving down towards the defensive line now, redshirt freshman Jabari Zuniga got after it as he recorded two sacks and finished with four total tackles on the night. Joining Zuniga, sophomore Keivonnis Davis accounted for 0.5 a sack as he made two tackles in the game.

Looking at the Gator secondary, they seemed to fare well without Jalen Tabor playing. Among the cornerbacks, freshman Chauncey Gardner and junior Duke Dawson both broke up a pass and combined for four tackles (three for Gardner and one for Dawson). Rounding out the defensive backs, both safeties in redshirt senior Marcus Maye and redshirt junior Nick Washington imposed their will as each of them had five tackles a piece.

Last, and 100% not least is the special teams unit. Before I get to the GOAT in punter Johnny Townsend, I need to talk about redshirt sophomore kicker Eddy Pineiro. Eddy, THANK YOU! Finally, the University of Florida has itself a kicker!

In his first ever football game (he did not play in high school), Pineiro was perfect as he nailed all three of his kicks from 40, 49, and 48 yards out, respectively. He would have been 4/4 had an offsides penalty not nullified his 28-yard attempt, which prompted Florida to go for it on fourth down and one as opposed to kicking again.

Of Pineiro's six kickoffs, four were touchbacks. The two kicks that were returned did not get past the UMass 30-yard line. He accounted for over 1/3 of Florida's points and is a big reason why the Gators were able to put UMass away at the end. I'll say it right now, he's my player of the game.

Of course though, how can I finish this article without mentioning the great Johnny Townsend? Killing it as always, the redshirt junior booted up four punts for a total of 178 yards. He averaged 44.5 yards per punt with his longest ball going 52 yards. He pinned UMass inside the 20-yard line twice.

In the return game, Antonio Callaway fielded four punts and combined for 33 total yards. He also fielded one kickoff and returned that for 32 yards.

Final Takeaway:
It wasn't the blowout I expected, but my last home opener as a student was a great one nonetheless. The offense was fun to watch, the defense was nearly impeccable minus just one drive, and special teams is finally reliable again (Townsend was always reliable of course).

A win is a win, and Coach Mac is going to have his Gators ready when good ol' Kentucky (0-1) comes to town next weekend. Florida will be going for their 30th straight win over the Wildcats! I feel like a t-shirt or something of that nature needs to be made to commemorate such an achievement.

If I have time, I may release an article on what was going on the last time Kentucky beat Florida. It just depends on how busy I am this week.

Regardless, the Gators will hit the field early next week as they prepare to host a Kentucky team that blew a 25-point lead and lost their home opener to the Southern Miss Eagle (0-1). Kentucky will bring their A-game into The Swamp as they look to avoid three decades of frustration against the Orange and Blue.

If Florida's offense plays like they did last night, then next week's contest will be a close game. However, I think the Gators will make proper adjustments and beat the Wildcats by two touchdowns to earn their first SEC win of 2016.

Kickoff for Florida/Kentucky is at 3:30 p.m. The game can be seen on CBS and heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network.

As for UMass, they head back to Massachusetts to take on the Boston College Eagles (0-1). Kickoff is at noon and it can be seen on ESPN3.

*All stats accredited to FloridaGators.com