Florida defeated Bowling Green, 27-14, in the Gators' season opener on Saturday. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, our first look before a second viewing, comes first.
I was being completely sincere about embracing the mystery of these Gators. But I was also hoping that the first game of the 2012 regular season left me feeling a little more positive about their chances of being good this year.
How Florida Won
Florida's 14-point rally in the second quarter erased the only lead Bowling Green had, but it was Frankie Hammond Jr.'s 50-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter that gave Florida a double-digit lead and put the game out of reach for a Falcons squad that was content to dink and dunk its way down the field.
Mike Gillislee appears to be what we all thought he was for the two years he languished behind smaller, faster backs. The Gators' senior runner ran 24 times for 148 yards, both career highs, and he did it up the middle and outside. When there was a hole, Gilly was through it, running hard, and when there was a chance to bounce a carry outside in the second quarter, Gilly did it for 38 yards and a touchdown. This performance against Bowling Green doesn't make Gilly great, and it might not have a whole lot of predictive value. But it was the best part of a day with only a handful of good parts.
It felt like Andre Debose wasn't on the field at all on offense. I walked away thinking I didn't notice him, and thought I would have had to watch again to make sure of that, but he appears in the play-by-play as the target of an incomplete pass ... and that came on the deepest throw of the day, so I guess I do actually remember it. But he returned one kick for 38 yards and three punts for 45 yards, and if that, what seemed like an average day for him in the return game, is his true baseline, then Debose is going to be a weapon all year.
Florida won the second quarter 14-0 and the fourth quarter 10-0. The first and third quarters weren't so good, but those are good margins for the periods of the game when teams are relying more on depth and stamina than programmed drives and players' peak conditions.
The offensive line didn't exactly shut down Bowling Green's pass rush, but it didn't allow a sack, and the blocking for Gillislee was quite good. Will Muschamp said in postgame comments on the radio that one reason for playing Jeff Driskel over Jacoby Brissett in the second half was Driskel's ability to move the pocket and run, though, so maybe the coaches are a little less encouraged by that.
Caleb Sturgis' final field goal attempt of the day doinked off the goalpost, but he made two others, including a 51-yarder from the right hash that almost faded too far left. Sturgis also sent a couple of kickoffs through the end zone, and looked capable as ever when doing directional kicking designed to plant an opposing team within its own 20. Even a kicker as reliable as Sturgis is susceptible to bad days, but they're certainly less likely.
Bowling Green completed 24 passes for 226 yards, which sounds bad, but that took 52 attempts, and so the Falcons' 4.3 yards per attempt is very much a good thing. Florida could certainly have made more plays in pass defense, and probably should have had three interceptions at least, but keeping the offense in front of you works as a strategy to minimize big plays.
Both Good and Bad
I thought both Driskel and Brissett did decent jobs of making no poor throws and keeping Florida from sabotaging itself on offense. Driskel got to play significantly longer than Brissett, who "started" (I believe Brissett got just 12 snaps at quarterback), and Driskel made more mistakes, like running out of bounds for a loss on a third down in the red zone. The biggest play of the day from either guy was the 22-yard run by Driskel on a naked bootleg late in the fourth quarter, but it came with just a few minutes left in the game, and seemed like a call executed to perfection more than a great freelancing effort. (Still, I heard "Tebow" a few times in the stands after it, and I called it a "Tebow Moment" on Twitter. And it was.) I would guess Driskel is now in the driver's seat to start at Texas A&M, but it wouldn't shock me at all if Muschamp declines to name a starter until late in the week, or if that starter ends up being Brissett.
Florida's wide receivers still are not definitively good, but Hammond's scamper was excellent, and Solomon Patton did a nice job on a sweep, and Dunbar seemed more elusive than he usually does. Debose didn't make an impact in the passing game, and neither did Latroy Pittman (two catches for six yards), but the Gators seemed to have wide receivers in this game, something that wasn't always true in 2011. (Florida wideouts combined for 50 yards in the Gator Bowl win over Ohio State, you may recall.)
The secondary missed at least two picks and got the one they did get on a tipped pass that went up instead of down. It also never really got the hang of denying Bowling Green the underneath passing game it showed no signs of going away from. But it didn't allow big plays (the Falcons' longest reception was for 22 yards), and that's a good thing.
Florida's defensive line got gashed time and again by a smart counter draw out of the shotgun that allowed the Bowling Green offensive line to turn the Gators' defensive tackles one way and free up the back to run the other. It also failed to sack Matt Schilz, and didn't get a lot of pressure on him, though both of those were symptomatic of the Falcons' reliance on short, quick passing. The line is supposed to be the strength of this defense, but it didn't look like it on this day.
Jordan Reed looked like a perfectly serviceable tight end for most of the day, with three catches for 33 yards, but got flagged for two false starts. Tight ends should probably not be getting flagged for false starts.
Omarius Hines looked like a useful multi-role player, running four times for 17 yards, but he coughed up Florida's only turnover of the day on a fumble that seemed to be more his fault than his quarterback's.
Holy damn, the penalties. Florida was flagged 14 times for 106 yards, flagged twice for false starts on the first offensive drive, flagged for four 15-yard penalties (including one for roughing the passer on a third down and one for a late hit by Debose on the punter on a fake punt), two of which led to Bowling Green touchdowns, flagged 10 times in the first half, flagged for delay of game before a field goal attempt from the right hash that ended up hitting the left upright, and flagged for delay of game before running the final kneeldown. It was every bit as painful as it sounds. The Gators must clean up their play to have any chance of winning the SEC; they might need to clean up their play to be assured of beating an SEC team.
Brissett taking the snap under center with Driskel lined up at slot receiver on the first play from scrimmage was ultimately a very silly thing. Sure, both players technically got a start, but the dual-QB novelty fooled no one, and was done only in service of a run up the middle. If that look is a legitimate part of the Pease offense, why not save it for, um, any time other than the first play of the season?
The Debose penalty on that fake punt saved Jabari Gorman the indignity of being the only guy at fault on a play that saw Bowling Green's punter, a Canadian named Brian Schmiedebusch who is listed at 6'3" and 226 pounds, juke Gorman badly. Fake punts that work are always a bad look for the defense, but Gorman looked especially bad.
That's what I saw. What'd you see? I'll be in the comments all night.