The Florida Gators were not quite ready for primetime on Saturday afternoon as they were beaten down 33-17 by the Michigan Wolverines. It was a score that was flattering to Florida given the way that the contest played out. Here is the report card:
Rushing Offense: F
This was an offense horror show for Florida on multiple levels. The Gators took their first opening loss since 1989 because their offense couldn’t get anything going against an active and disruptive Wolverines front. This is a squad that had to replace 18 of 22 starters from last season, yet Michigan was able to shut down the Gators and hold them to under 200 yards of total offense on the day.
Florida rushed for just 11 yards against Michigan. The main problem was that the Gators offensive line failed to get any push against a Wolverines unit that was stronger and more physical at the point of attack. On those few occasions that the running backs did have space, they seemed unable to make the right cuts and correct decisions to pull yardage out of the bag.
Remember that Florida was up 17-3 in this game. That is a perfect score line to get a running game established. It just didn’t happen.
Passing Offense: F
The passing offense was just as inept as the running game. Freshman Feleipe Franks gave false hope for the Gators when he hit Josh Hammond for a 34-yard gain on his first pass of the game. After that Franks did little to nothing, adding just 41 more yards on his other eight passing attempts. Franks was pulled in the third quarter for graduate transfer Malik Zaire, who went on to fare little better. He passed for 106 yards on 9-of-17 passing, with plenty of those yards coming long after the game was decided.
The line was again a huge issue here. Florida allowed five sacks and four hurries as the quarterbacks were constantly under duress. When the pocket was solid – a rare occurrence – the wide receivers were not able to get any separation from the sticky coverage of the Michigan defenders. Losing Antonio Callaway (who has still not been cleared to rejoin the team) was perhaps and even bigger blow than was first imagined.
Rushing Defense: B-
The numbers here don’t look great, but you have to consider that the Florida defense was trying to overcome an offense that was beyond awful. Michigan rushed for 215 yards and one touchdown on the Gators rushing defense, with the combination of Ty Isaac (11 carries for 114 yards) and Chris Evans (22 carries for 78 yards) doing most of the heavy lifting for the Wolverines.
Given the sheer amount of possession that Michigan had in the Florida half it is amazing the rushing defense held up this well. Michigan scored 26 points on offense despite having a massive 39 plays ran in Florida territory. The Gators held the Wolverines to just 33 percent on third down (6-of-18) and their D may have been even better if not for some individual mistakes that come with playing so many youngsters at the same time.
Passing Defense: B+
The passing defense – like the rushing defense – did all it could to stop Michigan winning this game. The Gators gave up a bad passing touchdown when Wilton Speight hit Tarik Black on a 46-yard touchdown completion, but even this had mitigating circumstances. The play was run immediately after starting defensive back Nick Washington went down with an injury, forcing Shawn Davis into uniform for the first time. His misread of the play allowed Black to scoot into the end zone wide open on a busted coverage, again something that happens when you are as young as Florida is.
The Gators passing D rebounded though and owned Speight for a second half stretch. First Duke Dawson, then CJ Henderson, intercepted passes and returned them for touchdowns in the space of less than two game minutes in the second quarter. The passing defense is going to be up and down like this until the players bed in, but this is a unit that will be scary by conference play.
Special Teams: C
Not much to see here really. Eddie Pineiro kicked a 46-yard field goal to cap the Gators first drive of the game, before missing one from 47-yards that would have stretched the Gators lead to 20-10 in the second quarter. The way the offense was playing this missed kick didn’t mean all that much, but it would be nice if the Gators kicker could be better than 50 percent most weeks.
The kicking and return games generally did what they were supposed to. Again though, this is a Florida team loaded with speed and talent so the chances for the return games to be better than just meh are there most weeks. This week nothing big came out of this facet of the game.
This isn’t so much a grade for in game coaching as it is a grade for overall performance leading into the season opener. The amount of suspensions – some to absolutely key players – that Florida had to deal with for an opening day contest against a team with top 5 aspirations is just not ok. Jim McElwain is the head coach of the program so anything happening to the players is on his watch. Add in that McElwain developed a reputation as an offensive guru, a reputation that must now be questioned with his quarterback and offensive line issues, and you have to wonder what is going on in Gainesville.