Florida’s 2017 Orange and Blue Debut is in the books, and this year’s spring spectacle saw the largely first-team Orange defeat the mostly second-team Blue, 31-0.
The question on everyone’s mind, and everyone’s list, going into the game was whether Florida had finally found a quarterback capable of effectively leading the Gators’ offense.
The unsatisfying answer? Maybe!
Yes, redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks guided his team to victory. He made some fine throws and sailed some misses. But, also, there is that whole first team versus second team angle to consider. Nonetheless, Franks was effective and surely appears to be in the lead for the starting job come fall, per spring reports and early returns. His highlights included a 46-yard throw to Josh Hammond and a beautiful 16-yard touchdown toss to Antonio Callaway. Franks did not return after the first half and finished the game 8 of 14 for 119 yards and that touchdown.
This spring’s game felt very similar to last year’s event. Once again the first team dominated the second, leading to a score of 31-0 for the Orange this year, and 44-6 for the Blue last year. The first team showed out while the second team mostly showed up.
Also in last year’s vein, the quarterback who started the game shined the brightest, and cemented the spring speculation that he would emerge as Florida’s top signal caller by the fall. Last year that was Luke Del Rio, and this year it is Franks.
And this year, unfortunately, fellow redshirt freshman Kyle Trask’s underwhelming appearance somewhat mirrors Franks’ jittery 2016 showing. But Trask really didn’t have much of a chance working with the twos against the ones. Once he was put on the Orange team in the second half, he was able to help lead that group down the field for a Lamical Perine touchdown. Trask finished the game 4-for-13 for 31 yards and a Duke Dawson interception.
Florida’s backfield had a strong performance. Jordan Scarlett looked every bit the 2016 back that led the Gators in rushing. He was chugging along, drapped in defenders, and scored the first touchdown of the game, punching it in from one on the Orange’s opening drive to give them a 7-0 lead. Mark Thompson played quite a bit, and looked good, despite a fumble and some drops – which again, seems to reflect the results of last year. Perine sped his way into the end zone for a touchdown which put the Orange up, 24-0, after an Eddy Piñeiro field goal and Antonio Callaway touchdown preceded it.
Oh, and Johnny Townsend had a 57 yard punt, so ya know, he’s still good. Piñeiro made the aforementioned field goal effort, but missed a 49 yarder off the upright towards the end of the fourth.
Freshman early enrollee quarterback Kadarius Toney was given time to run the offense in the fourth quarter, with the third team, and showed some significant moves – surely earning himself a full offseason of shine. So he’s sort of this year’s Kyle Trask, in other words.
Toney threw a touchdown pass to walk-on redshirt freshman wide receiver Tucker Nordman, which was humorously misidentified on the broadcast initially as an interception because the commentary team apparently forgot what color the offense was. That score put the mighty Orange up for good, 31-0.
As Steve Spurrier said when he dropped by the booth during the scrimmage, spring games are supposed to be fun. Special teams was no contact, the ones faced the twos, and clearly, the first team defensive line was no match for the second team offensive line. For those listening at home, think about how many times you heard the broadcasting crew mention that Jim McElwain told them this would be “very vanilla” and a “glorified practice.”
The whole point of this spectacle is to generate some buzz, have fun, and as Andy noted, put on a bit of a show, while keeping guys healthy. And Florida managed to mostly do just that.
So, as usual, my main Orange & Blue Debut takeaway is that there is probably not too much to take away from a choreographed spring showcase. But, the annual spring peek at this year’s team should not be totally taken for granted. After all, this is the last bit of Gator football that any of us will get before the fall.
Let speculation season begin.