We're not done talking about Florida's spring game. Despite the nearly a week that has passed since Blue beat Orange, 44-6, we have plenty more thoughts to put together and publish on the only live Gators football we're going to see for almost five months. And we'll break it down in a number of ways, including a Rundown of sorts for this weekend and the return of our QB grades to measure what all four of Florida's quarterbacks did.
But first, we have three perspectives on the game: From Ashley, who went to the game; from new contributor @wsgelite, who will be helping do some breakdowns as the offseason wears on; and from me, doing my typically hand-wavey big-picture stuff.
Football was back, if only briefly
Football season feels like it happened ages ago, in all honesty. Back when we welcomed Mac to The Swamp with open arms, back when Saturdays were devoted to being on campus all day and finding our way to Midtown post-games, back when we witnessed a miracle during the Tennessee game, back when we had an enormous amount of faith in Will Grier (remember when that was a thing!?!?), back when field goals couldn't be made, back when we only scored two points against FSU, and back when we somehow actually had a winning record despite basically not fielding an offense for a month.
It was an emotional rollercoaster of a season for sure, but it was also definitely a memorable one.
Even though I personally have been thriving off Gator baseball and softball for the past few weeks, I didn't realize my heart was truly in need of a dose of Gator football, even if it was just a spring game. It wasn't nearly as big as a regular game, but let me tell you, I was not the only one beyond excited to be back in The Swamp. And at night especially.
I found my friends a few hours before kick-off so we could grab food while not being in too much of a rush to get to the stadium. It was kind of odd walking on campus and not only seeing students in orange and blue as usual, but parents and families in their best game day gear as well. On a Friday night. In April. With music booming from the football stadium. And multiple tailgates set up throughout campus, too.
This was such a tease for the fall, but I was more than happy with getting the chance to watch our boys on the gridiron this early in the year.
Once we found our seats, I looked around the stadium. It was loud. People were yelling. People were dancing. People were excited. Even though it wasn't the usual 80,000-plus like the fall season, the place was still rocking. The 46,000ish fans in attendance were alive, well, and loud with the "ORANGE" and "BLUE" chants. Albert and Alberta were running around and giving high-fives all around. Kids were screaming and waving signs in the air, doing all they could to try and land a shot on the screen.
When the hype video came on, though, a silence fell. And when the words "only Gators get our alive" came over the speakers, the stadium erupted into madness yet again.
"Heeeeeeeeerrrre come the Gators!" Even more madness.
I watched the boys in orange and blue (and white) below. They seemed just as excited as we were. As I watched footballs fly through the air and passes be completed, I discussed predictions on the QB situation with the people around me. Luke Del Rio looked pretty damn good, and Austin Appleby and Kyle Trask didn't look too shabby either. Feleipe Franks, on the other hand, didn't have the best night. I definitely have Del Rio as the starter in my mind, but I'm also an optimist on par with, like, anyone, so I don't want to go too hard on Franks just yet. This was only a spring game and the kid is still basically fresh out of high school.
Despite being pretty thrilled to witness some quality offensive plays, I think I speak for a majority of Gator Nation when I say we were beyond eager to finally see The Kicker. Eddy Pineiro making three of the five attempts he had got us psyched. And even if it had been one? WE MADE A FIELD GOAL. WE REALLY DID. AND IT WAS GLORIOUS.
Pineiro tweeted out a video earlier this week that captured just how psyched we were.
One of the loudest experiences after I made This field goal that I have ever been in we truly have the best fans pic.twitter.com/Xp93e8FHAJ— Eddy Pineiro (@eddypineiro1) April 12, 2016
Overall, Friday was awesome. And like I said before, it was such a tease for a true game day. Now I'm just itching for fall to get here. Dang it. — Ashley Kummer
Del Rio, restocked roster show progress
Maybe the thing that stood out the most to me about Florida's 2016 spring game was how far the team has come since 2015's spring game.
This year, McElwain and Co. avoided having to hold tryouts for linemen just to have enough bodies in order to play a spring game. The receiver position was a huge question mark going into last spring as well; this year, Florida has scads of options. And we managed to come away with a clear No. 1 at the quarterback position with Luke Del Rio looking impressive in his outing, something that we really didn't have until October of last year.
Del Rio showed a command of the offense that's been missing for quite a while. He looked comfortable in everything he did and was able deliver throws in rhythm. Maybe the most impressive thing he did was manipulate coverage by looking off the safety on each of his touchdown throws. And adequacy alone would be fine: McElwain's offense tends to simplify things for the quarterback position. He has gotten good numbers with less than stellar QB play over the years, and it's not crazy to think he can get good play from Luke of the River in 2016.
We also learned that Kyle Trask may be the future of Florida football. He's a player that can be molded by McElwain and Doug Nussmeier: He doesn't seem to have any bad habits that starting high school quarterbacks usually form. I'm floored by his mechanics at this point in his maturation. His release is the prototypical "high and tight" one, and goes nicely with light feet and a broad base under his 6'4" frame. It was a tale of two tapes when Feleipe Franks threw an interception on a screen that never developed, only to have Trask run a similar screen but throw his in the dirt, realizing nothing was there. His play, the best of any QB with the Orange squad, left us screaming at Mac to let him run with the ones.
We still don't know exactly what we have at quarterback because you never want to take too much away from a scrimmage of 1s vs. 2s, but it's safe to say the position is moving in a positive direction.
The receiver group looks to have some newcomers looking to contribute early in Joshua Hammond, Freddie Swain, and Dre Massey. Massey had a touchdown catch up the seam late in the game, while Swain and Hammond found open spots in the defense, converting on a few first downs.
Linebacker depth has been an area of concern recently, but I think we can breathe a sigh of relief after watching Kylan Johnson and David Reese. Johnson wreaked havoc last Friday, flying all over the field and accounting for eight tackles and an interception. Reese's build fits the mold of an inside backer, and he plays downhill with good intensity, something that could make him a freshman success akin to Antonio Morrison.
Elsewhere, Duke Dawson hasn't been a main contributor on defense in the past, but when given opportunities he's played well. He was able to snag two interceptions and return one for a touchdown and looks to have the nickel spot locked up for the most part. And Eddy Pineiro somehow lived up to the hype and booted in three of five field goals with two being from over 50 yards out. He gives McElwain and Florida's offense the luxury of having a chance at points anytime the offense passes midfield, and the lack of a reliable kicker forced Florida into awkward situations and left points on the board all too often a year ago. — @wsgelite
McElwain, master of stagecraft
I thought Florida's spring game was a fine showing of both offensive and special teams proficiency, with a fine cameo by the first-team defense. And I think that's exactly what we were supposed to see.
I'm still not as firmly entrenched in the Jim McElwain camp as I once was in the Will Muschamp camp, to say nothing of how ardent my love for Steve Spurrier or pre-"you're a bad guy" Urban Meyer was. He strikes me as smart and cunning, sure, but also as inauthentically folksy, ready to use an "aw, shucks" to cover up something cutthroat. And yet — to borrow one of McElwain's vocal tics — I think he really, truly gets the optics of running a big-time program.
I watched the game on WatchESPN and on Twitter, so I was behind in my viewing, but Florida was the biggest thing in college football on Friday night. The pro- and anti-Gators partisans were out in full force on Twitter, reveling in the Luke Del Rio Passing Camp and Eddy Pineiro Exhibition or lampooning Florida fans for being shamelessly into a spring game in which Pineiro was as impressive as Franks wasn't. (It's always struck me as a good thing, in the sense that it speaks to Florida's relevance, when so many self-proclaimed Gators haters can't take their eyes off the team in orange and blue.)
There was no ignoring this game on a Friday night under the lights, and McElwain staged a "game" heavily rigged for the Blue squad's starters that wouldn't be easily forgotten. And staged is the right word for how immaculately this show as orchestrated.
Del Rio starred, yes, but McElwain clearly wanted him to and stacked the deck for that outcome, and while McElwain talked up Austin Appleby's ability to move the second team, it was telling which of Florida's upperclassman signal-callers got the plummest position available. Pineiro got as much game experience as possible. Franks re-entered with the Blue team after three picks, instead of Kyle Trask, because McElwain needed to rebuild some confidence for Franks in that moment. Florida didn't use Mark Thompson (or any running back) all that much, because, well, why bother figuring out whether you can run on your second-team defense?
This was a feel-good game for a program and a fan base that had a feel-good season derailed late last year, and still has the black cloud of indefinite suspension hanging over Antonio Callaway, its most exciting player. It was exactly what so many Florida fans needed to sustain them through a long offseason.
And it was probably just what McElwain wanted.
He's pretty good at what he does, that guy. — Andy Hutchins