We missed college football so much that we begged for it to return a week earlier this season. The football gods (aka, ESPN) saw fit to grant the request and the Florida-Miami kickoff game drew an overnight 4.1 rating—the best for a college football game since 2016.
The game was a myriad of adjectives that will never fully do justice to the madness that happened in Orlando’s Camping World Stadium before 66,543 fans on Saturday night. And as you return to work this week, still waiting on the rest of college football to take the field, here are some things to keep in mind for those discussions/arguments (depending on what part of the state you live in) around the watercolor.
Todd Grantham’s Aggressiveness and Game Adjustments
Yes, Gators defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is still aggressive and blitz happy. It can hurt at times like it did in the first half when Miami offensive coordinator Dan Enos was dialing up screens left and right. Nearly each one worked, with the Canes going 4-4 with the call on their first drive alone, ending in a field goal. On the second Canes drive, Enos went for the screen again but corner Marco Wilson was waiting and laid the hammer. From there, Grantham’s blitz calls didn’t ease up but he was able to get a bead on what Enos was hoping to do with his redshirt freshman quarterback. After giving up 200 total yards of offense in the first half, the Gators defense only gave up nearly half (108) in the 2nd half and a mere eight yards alone in the 3rd quarter. There were missed tackles, some that occurred because so many players—including safeties—were sent to blitz and/or help disguise the package, that few were left to help downfield. It’s a gamble with Grantham’s defense and one that doesn’t always work during the game but has proven more often than not to work in the crucial, game winning moments. That was the case again Saturday night as the Gators defense had to fight through a 10 play Canes drive in order to maintain their win. They sacked Williams twice during that drive and had a Jeremiah Moon QB hurry that could feasibly be counted as a third.
Ventrell Miller and Jon Greenard
Let’s talk about Ventrell Miller and Jon Greenard. After a lot of assumption that Amari Burney would be the big name linebacker after one game, it was Miller who stepped in and produced on snap after snap. He was tied for a team leading six tackles, thanks to his play in the box and ability to run sideline to sideline. Another one tied for six tackles was Jon Greenard. The Louisville transfer came in this spring as a grad transfer and former experience in Grantham’s defense. He split time with Moon at BUCK and was a force on the edge. Greenard, along with Jabari Zuniga, Adam Shuler and Moon formed a pass rush that picked on a young Miami offensive line and quarterback all night. They amassed 10 sacks along with five quarterback hurries, including one by Moon to end the game that appeared to be a sack in game time.
Props to Strength and Conditioning
Often we don’t realize how important the strength and conditioning program is until it’s a problem. So we want to take this moment to give Nick Savage and his staff props. Saturday night was a fight that required the Gators to give every drop of energy they had and then some. It harkened back to the “don’t let go of the rope” tasks Savage put the team through in the offseason, making sure they never gave up on a single play. Then there’s also the more practical applications. Just before kickoff, ESPN reported that the heat index on the field was 122 degrees. This reporter can attest to the oppressive heat and humidity that blanketed the game. And amidst those crippling temperatures, the game wasn’t slowed down by cramps and game caused injuries. The Gators (and for that matter the Canes as well) showed that not only are the adjusted to the Florida heat but more importantly, they’re capable of coming back week one and not being hampered by weather that has knocked out others.
By the time the clock hit 0:00 the Gators had nine penalties (two offensive, seven defensive). Now we have little doubt that if you are in fact discussing this around the watercooler with co-workers, that you’ll focus on the officials and some of the flags dropped, particularly at the end of the 4th quarter. There were some questionable calls and no-calls throughout the night from the Big 12 crew. Mullen said he would send in a couple like the decision on the fumble, to the league office and ask for an explanation. But there also has to be some better discipline from the Gators so as not to find themselves in those situations again. For example, it wasn’t a nightmare; with the Canes down by four, facing a 4th and 34 with 1:30 to play from their own 36-yard line, there was in fact a pass interference call on Marco Wilson that moved Miami up 15 yards and provided them with a fresh set of downs. It was the first of two (the second being against Trey Dean) that allowed the Canes to hang around. Two unsportsmanlike calls and a personal foul were all areas that could be avoided and will undoubtedly be addressed this off week.
Franks—Take Good with the Bad
We will dive more into this as the week progresses, but there was a barrage of criticism on message boards and social media that moaned about the play of Feleipe Franks on Saturday night. Some of it justified, such as the decisions a redshirt junior quarterback made that caused a fumbled handoff, missing an open receiver or leaving the pocket too early. But after rewatching the game, we also see a lot more about what went into his decisions on the night—primarily the offensive line—and see the growth that Mullen spoke of all offseason. Franks does look more comfortable in this offense, he does look like he has more control, he is making better decisions and while he may make head scratching ones at times, he’s also fully capable of making the game winning play on the next drive. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions but we’d be hard pressed to find a Gators quarterback from the last nine years that would have been capable of beating Miami. And with three touchdowns, Franks did just that. There was also a vocal argument on social media that Franks ignored his teammates to celebrate himself after good plays. No matter what the camera picked up in certain moments, you’d be even more hard pressed to find a guy on Florida’s roster that won’t crawl into a foxhole with Feleipe Franks.
Jarren Williams is a Stud
Miami has a real one in their redshirt freshman passer. Despite throwing only three passes all of last season—and those against Savannah State no less—Williams was poised, accurate and confident all night. His young line didn’t do much too help, giving up the aforementioned 10 sacks, but he bounced back after each and never flinched. Unless a matchup is made in the postseason, the Gators are lucky to have gotten their matchup with Williams out the way early in his career.
Offensive Line Work Ahead
For their first game against a formidable defensive front, the Gators offensive line didn’t do terribly. But they’ve got plenty of tape to work from. We do want to take a second to commend them for keeping the penalties to a minimum. There was a false start and one holding call, and for a line that had to replace four starters, that’s not bad. As the night went on, the pass protection got relatively better. There’s still a lot to be desired but Franks was given more time, except on his second interception when he was being hit and fallen on, messing up the throw. The biggest area of concern for the line will be the rushing lanes. The Gators only gained 52 yards on the ground all night, with 42 coming from Perine who had to work his way through defenders on the edge. If Florida can’t do more with their stout running back unit, then it could be a long season. That starts with the offensive line.
GIVE KADARIUS TONEY THE BALL
Special Teams Are Special
Van Jefferson downed a deep Tommy Townsend punt early in the 3rd quarter that pinned the Canes at their own 5-yard line. Then he recovered a Jeff Thomas fumble on another deep Townsend punt that gave the Gators a short field that led to a touchdown. That’s a senior team leading wide receiver who could be working towards a NFL roster right now if he hadn’t decided to return to school. Yet he’s flying down the field as a gunner on special teams. Another senior, Townsend, averaged 44.7 yards on three punts, two of those coming on short field in which he expertly placed the ball inside the 15 and avoiding a touchback. He also picked up a first down that led to a touchdown on a fake punt. Dan Mullen and coordinator Greg Knox have stressed the important of special teams and it was certainly special to kick off the season.
At the end of the day, that’s what matters. The Gators are 1-0 with a win over a bitter in-state rival and two weeks to prepare for UT Martin. Welcome back college football. We’ve missed you.