It’s good to be back. After last year, things in the college football world are at full bore again. The fans are fully back. The energy is back in the building and you could clearly see that from how the Swamp was on Saturday. And with the return of football, comes another season of Grading the Gators.
Last year we saw an all-time great Gator offense light up scoreboards all throughout the Southeastern Conference. Now, the offense is full of new guys looking to cement their own legacy like those who did so in 2020. The first couple of series went at a lightning pace. Quick hitters, big chunks in the run game followed by lots of tempo. It seemed the Gators would be terrorizing the SEC employing this new look. Then the speed bumps hit. Florida should’ve been up 28 going to into the half and had to settle for 14. Emory Jones provided plenty of explosion in the running game but really did struggle as a passer. Mental mistakes on back-to-back drives in the redzone (one didn’t involve passing but it can’t go without mentioning) and multiple misplaced or missed throws stalled out the offense.
The running game really moved the ball for Florida. Jones and Anthony Richardson ripped off their fair share of runs but Richardson will be remembered more out of the two for what he did with his legs. Though the offensive line did struggle with blocking at times, Florida saw double-digit big plays on the ground. Malik Davis looks like his old self and Dameon Pierce continues to be a tough runner. Plus, fans got to see a little dose of the explosiveness Lorenzo Lingard and Demarkcus Bowman can provide.
The defense still had its troubles with getting off the field and little bit of confusion lining up from last year. But, overall, I think they played well. The front seven struggled at first to get any kind of pressure. FAU was able to get the ball out quick to start the game. But as the game wore on it harassed N’Kosi Perry and was the reason the defense got off the field on multiple occasions. Zachary Carter is truly going to be a problem this season. The Gators tallied six sacks, three by Carter alone, and at least eight quarterback hurries. If they can get that kind of production from the front, it can do well to help this secondary.
The secondary is still looking to figure it out. They’re still looking for a permanent option at the second cornerback spot. Avery Helm got the start and had a few lapses, Jason Marshall showed flashes but also had a bad pass interference call and Elijah Blades extended a drive with a facemask in the secondary. FAU won on several quick hitters and actually had a screen pass wide open that would’ve worked if not for an enforced error. But under 300 yards passing allowed is still an accomplishment.
Special teams: A-
There wasn’t much opportunity for the kickers. Aussie punter Jeremy Crawshaw only punted twice but one of them was a 55-yard bomb to the FAU 15 and pinned the Owls at the 14 thanks to a great tackle from Ja’Markis Weston. Chris Howard and Jace Christmann combined to go perfect on extra point attempts and shared kickoff responsibilities. The only lapse was a 30-yard kickoff return allowed late in the fourth quarter. Speaking of returns, Xzavier Henderson provided some pretty good ones at the punt returner spot. His big 33-yarder set the Gators up with great position. His 12-yard return even moved the Gators from inside their own 20 to a more comfortable position at the 27 yard-line. I would love to see him continue to produce at that position.
For a good chunk of this game, it was a rather boring affair where FAU hung around a lot longer than people probably liked. Anthony Richardson and the running game helped provide some excitement in the second half as the Gators finally pulled away in the fourth quarter. There were plenty of good things to take away from the season opener but there are still plenty of kinks they need to hammer out. And it’ll have to happen soon as Alabama comes to town in just two weeks’ time.