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Florida Gators 2014 spring game: Offense beats defense in 23-23 tie

It's easy to laugh at how Florida's spring game ended. But the Gators' offense looks well on its way to not being a laughingstock.


First, we must begin at the end: Yes, Florida finished its spring game at a 23-23 tie between the Blue (the offense's No. 1s, more or less) and Orange (the defense's No. 1s, more or less) teams, and yes, Florida opted to kick an extra point after a touchdown from Skyler Mornhinweg to Bair Diamond with just seconds left gave the Orange team a chance to tie or win.

And, thus, "Florida didn't win its spring game!?" is the easiest joke in the college football world at this very second.

But that joke, of course, doesn't tell the full story — and the full story is a lot more encouraging for Florida fans.

Between its two offenses, Florida ran 68 plays, scored 36 points, and gained 414 yards of offense in the first half. The 36 points were more than Florida scored in any game in 2013, the 414 yards one off Florida's season high of 415 against Toledo, and the 68 plays more than Florida averaged in 2013.

The new, Kurt Roper-directed Florida offense appears to be no joke.

Jeff Driskel completed 17 of 30 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown, and looked slightly better than he did at this point in 2013 in terms of comfort in and control of the Blue offense. Mornhinweg (14 for 18, 149 yards, two touchdowns) and Will Grier (who looked skittish, threw the game's lone interception, and didn't settle in until midway through the first half) split reps for the Orange team, and moved the ball well against Florida's second- and third-team defenders.

Kelvin Taylor flashed new quickness in his limited action, rushing for 24 yards and a touchdown on four carries. Mack Brown looked shiftier than he has in the past, too, running for 73 yards and a touchdown on nine carries and making a superb play on a cutback that led to a touchdown. And Adam Lane, Florida's bowling ball-shaped redshirt freshman, showed both quickness and power late.

Florida's receivers had issues with drops all day, but Demarcus Robinson shined, with his shiftiness in the open field helping him turn a crossing route — on a well-designed play that saw Quinton Dunbar help "rub" Robinson open — into Driskel's lone touchdown pass. Chris Thompson and Ahmad Fulwood stood out, as well, and Deandre Goolsby was a major factor on Florida's game-tying drive in the final minute. The Gators would likely have had better offensive numbers without the drops, which seemed to plague every receiver, but passes were largely on target, save Grier's awful interception — either a horrific misread or a failed attempt to throw the ball away that Nick Washington hauled in near the sideline with no one within 10 yards of him.

And so the Gators finished with a combined 46 points and 606 yards, and with four made field goals from Austin Hardin, who looked as steady in this game as he did shaky in 2013, and only missed an extra point in the first half because of a bad hold, and with no injuries significant enough to linger or note. For a program that has been dragging its offense around as an anchor for the better part of four years, this was a marked improvement.

But that improvement requires context and qualification, too.

Florida's Orange team played without Vernon Hargreaves III and Dante Fowler, Jr., its top two picks from the "draft" that set up the game. Holding out two future NFL players probably helped get receivers open and keep Driskel from feeling pressure, though it should be noted that the offensive line appeared to do a

Florida's second-team offense, helmed by Mornhinweg and Grier, was doing a lot of its work with and against walk-ons by game's end. It's probably a good sign that the offensive design is good enough for Mornhinweg to lead a game-tying drive with walk-ons and freshmen helping; it's not really a good sign for any defense that Mornhinweg, who heaved up a deep ball that might have quailed for 30 yards on a free play, can get what he wants against it, as he still lacks the arm to do anything more than execute a short passing game.

And while Hardin had an excellent day, Kyle Christy followed up a sensational spring with an underwhelming day as a punter, never getting off a big punt like the ones I saw him launch more than half a dozen times at practice.

Was this a fantastic glorified exhibition that showed unequivocal improvement on both sides of the ball by a Florida team that is definitely going to be great in the fall? No. But neither was it a debacle, so long as you don't care that Florida ended its meaningless spring game in a meaningless tie. (Which, to be clear, you definitely shouldn't — it would've been worse if Hardin had missed a game-tying extra point, no?)

On a day when Florida's offense moved the ball and looked better than Florida's (somewhat depleted) defense, the future looked better than the past.

Focus on that, and don't worry about the rest.