The Florida Gators knocked off FAU 35-14 to begin the 2021 season, but left much to be desired. So: what stuck out along the way? (Aside: I’ll be keeping these “five takeaways” pieces short and sweet throughout the season in order to get more stuff written each week.)
1: Emory Jones did have moments, but wasn’t great after that
Duh. The obvious takeaway that everybody is screaming about on social media is getting the front-and-center treatment in this five takeaways piece. He looked great to start the game, directing two quick touchdown drives, but from that point on, he really struggled. His eyes appeared to lock onto receivers, he looked timid in the pocket, and he made some throws that- let’s not sugarcoat this- were just plain awful. He telegraphed one ball toward the end zone that was picked off for a touchback, and stared down his receiver on another one that was easily picked off along the sideline. And he was inches away from a third pick- that could have gone back for six. I’ve always been a believer that one game can’t make or break a season, or a career, so he’ll get another chance against USF to sell me on him as “The Guy,” but this was not the start Jones was looking for, to say the least.
2: Anthony Richardson announced his presence
The most popular guy on any given non-elite football team is always the backup quarterback, right? Well, Anthony Richardson sure seems to be. He made several electric plays last night, including a 73 yard sprint down the far sideline for the game-clinching score, a nasty stiff-arm and a hurdle over an FAU defender foolish enough to try to take his legs out. It’s way too early to make any comparisons between him and Cam Newton, as some fans have been doing, but he definitely was the best quarterback on the field last night- and if he keeps doing that (Dan Mullen is almost certain to get him meaningful reps in every game of the year) it’s going to be very difficult to justify not starting him the rest of the way. That said- he did only complete three passes for 40 yards, and one of them was on a busted coverage to Ja’Markis Weston for 36 of those 40. So let’s tap the brakes a little.
3: The receivers did not help either QB out
In a world where few things can garner 100% agreement among a polled population, it’s fair to say that “Emory Jones wasn’t great” was one of them. But blame is like fertilizer. You must spread it where it belongs. And Florida’s receivers, save for a few plays here and there, did not make things any easier for him. The overall failure to create massive separation against FAU’s defense does not bode well for the Gators’ showdown against Alabama in two weeks, and if either QB is going to become the guy that can lead Florida to the promised land, the receivers are going to have to give him something to work with. Sharper, crisper route running is a must next week against USF.
4: The offensive line looked solid
Disclaimer: this was Florida Atlantic. So of course the Florida Gators’ offensive line looked better than it had since 2019, because Florida hasn’t played an opponent this weak in the trenches since. Still, the offensive line was firing off the snap and creating some of the largest spaces we’ve seen in the ground game since Mullen’s first season in 2018. Florida rushed for an even 400 yards- that’s the most in Mullen’s Florida tenure- and that all starts up front. And special shoutout to Jean DeLance. After two years of perennial crucifixion from this fan base, he exploded out of his stance at right tackle and landed a big time block to spring Dameon Pierce for the touchdown to make it 21-0.
5: The “Florida Gators Turnover Or Points Defense” is back
My booster buddy has a name for Florida’s defense under Todd Grantham, as you can see in the header of this last takeaway. And I’m stealing it because it’s oh so accurate. Whereas in 2020 the defense was just plain atrocious, last night appeared to be a return to the Todd Grantham defense of old- he’ll give up yards, he’ll give up big plays, and he’ll counter with some sacks and turnovers. Florida forced three fumbles (and recovered one of them), logged five sacks, and gave up 335 yards of offense- far more than they should have against an FAU offense that looked suspiciously more functional than it did in 2020. Cornerbacks were still intermittently giving receivers ten or eleven yard cushions off the line of scrimmage. Multiple assignments were blown in the secondary in the first game on staff for Wesley McGriff and Jules Montinar. So needless to say, this Florida Gators defense has a whole host of things to clean up if it wants any chance of going toe to toe with Alabama.
The final word: ho-hum. Florida go the win, but left more questions than answers out there. And they’d better answer those questions pretty quick, because Alabama comes to town thirteen days from now.