Lawrence Wright caught a long touchdown pass. So did Travis McGriff. And so did fifth-year walk-on R.J. Raymond, a tight end converted from linebacker who had more career tackles than catches entering the day — even if the ref missed his knee touching grass on an attempt to break a tackle.
It was that kind of day for the Florida Gators in their 2018 Orange and Blue Debut — a game in which the final score of Orange 35, Blue 30 was at once deceptive and far from the point.
Kyle Trask threw for 178 yards and a touchdown — his was a 48-yarder to Wright — and Feleipe Franks threw for 117 yards and a touchdown (a 60-yarder to McGriff) and ran for another 63 yards and two TDs, 60 on a scamper to the end zone that probably could have been whistled dead or rendered so by a slightly better effort from defenders. Freshman Emory Jones also showed promise and room to grow in his efforts, completing just three of seven passes with an interception — but two of his throws went for six points each, and neither went to a star of the 1990s.
Really, though, Florida was largely unable to manufacture big plays without the help of nostalgia on this afternoon. Trask was slightly better than Franks through the air, with a few impressive intermediate throws after a slow start, but neither of the Gators’ two redshirt sophomores were able to complete a bomb without the aid of Wright or McGriff coming off the sideline, and Franks missed on what should have been an easy touchdown to an uncovered Van Jefferson, leading him to the sideline and forcing the Ole Miss transfer to make a difficult catch.
And the hype that followed Ohio State transfer Trevon Grimes this spring may die down after a quiet spring game showing. Reputedly Florida’s best player in practice this spring, Grimes had just two catches for eight yards, and dropped one throw that Trask zipped to his midsection.
Instead of a high-octane offense with sky-writing proficiency, Florida fans saw largely what they have seen from the Gators in recent years: Good defense and an improving running game that features a rotation of talented backs. Blue held just a 3-0 lead after the first quarter as Florida’s defenders yielded little early on, but both teams ultimately combined for 239 yards on the ground, and Jordan Scarlett’s 57 yards on 10 carries in his return to action after a year spent suspended for his involvement in a credit card fraud scheme were maybe the most pleasant sight of the game.
And defensive end Antonneous Clayton, a five-star signee from the 2016 recruiting class who has yet to make a significant mark as a collegian, flashed his speed around the end, picking up two sacks and prying the ball out on what would have been a strip-sack of Trask in a true game situation.
There were things for Florida fans to be excited about for the fall and for the future in this game, yes — but you had to squint to see them, and sit through the silliness to even have that opportunity.
Several more months will have to pass before we have an idea of whether the Gators will meet their fans’ standard for exciting fall football seasons.