Grading the Gators: Florida vs. Florida Atlantic

By Brett Kaplan

When I first walked into the stadium, I thought it could be a long night. I saw Florida playing in those awful orange uniforms, the ones that make us look like Clemson. I was pleasantly surprised by the energy, intensity, and rhythm of the Gators on this night. The offense exploited a not-so-great Owls defense. The defense consistently pressured the FAU offense. I’m not reading a whole lot into this since this is most likely the second worst team the Gators will play this season. But they look young, hungry, and ready to shock the SEC. Here’s the breakdown of the game the Gators won 41-3.

Offense: B
Game ball goes to Chris Rainey. He was a monster whenever he got the ball. Rainey had 168 total yards and made some moves that left some of the Owls players ankles still on the field. His juke and spin move for his two offensive touchdowns were the highlights of the night. Jeff Demps had a great night running the ball when the got him in space. The first couple of plays had Demps going up the middle, which completely under utilizes his skills. They adjusted and Demps ended up at 105 rushing yards with 2 touchdowns and averaged 8.8 yards per carry. If these two stay healthy, it could be an explosive season. John Brantley also deserves a lot of kudos for the game. Yeah, he threw two interceptions, one a batted ball, but he played very well, leading the Gators on sustained, long drives. He converted when he needed to. He looked really great until Will Muschamp or Charlie Weis decided to burn quarterback Jeff Driskel’s redshirt and put him in with under five minutes left in the second quarter. Taking Brantley out threw his rhythm off. Brantley’s a rhythm quarterback. I think the coaches learned that they shouldn’t take him out unless he’s going to be out for the rest of the game. And the coaches paid for it when Driskel sailed a pass for an interception on his first pass attempt, which led to the only points of the game for Florida Atlantic. As for our receivers, it was a typical Weis night with 9 receivers catching the ball. Rainey was the leading receiver, but Deonte Thompson and Jordan Reed also made impacts in the game. Thompson came out of the game, most likely concussed after a helmet to helmet drilling, so let’s hope he can play next week. Andre Debose made the catch of the night when Driskel threw a perfect pass into his bread basket while Debose was being interfered with. But that was late in the game. The reason why the offense gets a B and not higher is because the offense was relatively vanilla. Rainey said it best when he said they basically ran six plays all game. You don’t need to show much when you play FAU. I’m also looking for some true WR to step up and play well. It’ll take some time in a new offense, but they have a month when they can iron things out. Overall, I liked the direction the offense is going and when you have Demps and Rainey on the field, it can go the distance at any time.

Defense: A
The defense set the tone for the game from the very beginning. FAU had something like four total yards at the end of the first half. The defensive line was consistently getting pressure and penetrating the line of scrimmage. Florida registered two sacks from Jaye Howard and Ronald Powell which is more than they can say in pretty much any game last season. The Gators started two true freshman in the secondary in S De’Andre “Pop” Saunders and CB Marcus Roberson. Both played well, but will truly be tested with a better offense and during SEC play. Jelani Jenkins was a man and led the team in tackles for the game. The defense was aggressive and forced the quarterback to make poor throws over and over. If there’s one thing you can do to help a young secondary, it’s get pressure on the QB and they passed with flying colors. The defense was also stout against the run, allowing 30 yards on 30 carries. Pretty darn good. The downside for the defense is they didn’t create any turnovers. For this defense to be elite, I would like to see some more turnovers created to help the offense with a short field. But when the Gators QB’s threw their interceptions, the defense made sure the Owls got as little points as possible. They didn’t play the “bend but don’t break” style of defense. They full out played almost an offensive defense.

Special Teams: C-
Special teams are going to look a lot better in the box score than how they actually played. They gave up some big kickoff returns and weren’t great in the punt return game. Frankie Hammond, Jr. had some issues fielding punts. The good news: Florida didn’t have to decide which punter, David Lerner or Kyle Christy, would field punts and they blocked a punt for a touchdown. For the blocked punt, the Florida Atlantic long snapper skipped the ball to the punter, allowing the speedy Robert Clark to block the punt cleanly and have Chris Rainey take it in for the touchdown. On the opening kickoff, Jeff Demps nearly had a kickoff return for a touchdown if it weren’t for a holding penalty that brought it back. It shows the potential in the return game. But that was pretty much the only opportunity Florida had for kickoff returns. It was great to see K Caleb Sturgis back on the field. On the Gators opening possession he hit a 51 yard field goal with ease and tacked on a  He also routinely kicked the ball into the end zone on kickoffs and had the consistency in the kicking game Florida missed last season when he missed nine games. Florida needs to work on special teams and I think that will be a priority this week in practice.

Overall: B+

A great first win for head coach Will Muschamp. He and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn called a superb game. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis didn’t show anything other teams could pick up on for scouting. This defense is going to be the calling card of the team and it played well. Sharriff Floyd was suspended for the game for reasons unknown that have to do with eligibility, but if they can get him back, this defensive line is going to push some people around this season. Brantley managed the game very well. And we all knew that Demps and Rainey were the lifeline for the Gators offense with their quick strike ability. But there were some lapses in special teams and on offense that can’t be overlooked. All-in-all, good start to the season and a 1-0 start in the standings. This team should be moving up the rankings in to the top 20 after this win.

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