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

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