Kahleil Jackson scores a touchdown late in the first half of the 2023 Gators Spring Game (Image from UAA)
With the conclusion of the 2023 Gators Spring Game Thursday night that means everyone now has an over and even underreaction. For the second year in a row Billy Napier asked Gator Nation to pack The Swamp and the fans witnessed a rather low scoring affair of 10-7. While many fans seemingly came away underwhelmed by the low scoring affair there are some solid takeaways both good and concerning moving forward.
Florida Gators Defense Will Be Competent in 2023
The first takeaway from the spring game is the defense will be competent in 2023. For me to just say that the Florida Gators defense will be better in 2023 would be too easy. After all it was one of the worst defenses in Florida football history. So to say it will be better is not saying much after ranking #87 in opponents scoring and #91 in total defense. Austin Armstrong replaces Patrick Toney and he dialed up a full arsenal against the Gators offense. Both defensive units held Florida scoreless for much of the first half due to 9 combined sacks, a fumble recovery and double digit QB hurries. While this is one data point the players showed a lot more enthusiasm and more importantly communicated much better compared to what we saw in 2022.
The QB Room Could be an Issue
Back in December when the news of Graham Mertz broke that he was transferring not many Gator fans were pleased with the move. After this spring I am not sure he did much to change that narrative. Albeit he did have an efficient performance in the Gators’ spring game of 18/29, 244 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs. However, much of the reporting this spring stated he failed to separate himself from 2022 transfer, Jack Miller. Due to this, many have speculated that Florida would pursue a transfer QB. Sure enough after the game coach Napier said they were “in the process of adding another player at the position.” Of course that could mean bringing in another transfer QB or the potential reclassification of Austin Simmons.
Florida May Have the Best RBs in the SEC
Last year transfer Montrell Johnson and true freshman Trevor Etienne burst onto the scene becoming two of Florida’s best offensive players. Combined they rushed for over 1500 yards and 16 TDs. Thursday night they showed how they once again can dominate the SEC as they helped moved the ball better than almost anyone else on offense. Florida may also have found solid depth behind them with both incoming freshman Treyaun Webb, adding 53 yards and Tulane transfer Cam Carroll who proved his physicality throughout the spring.
Offensive Line Has Work to do
While Florida lost a consensus All-American in O’Cyrus Torrance many believed after Billy Napier brought in a handful of transfers the offensive line would once again be a strength. After watching the Florida Gators Spring Game, I am not convinced that is the case anymore. We knew the line was in trouble after we lost Kam Waites to an achilles injury. Couple that with presumed starter at guard Micah Mazzcua going down with an indefinite injury things have gotten questionable for Florida. This unit was pushed around be the defense Thursday and that cannot happen if the team is to improve its win total this season. In addition it is clear the identity on offense will be a run first team with the SEC’s best duo. Therefore, Florida has to figure out a consistent rotation of 5-8 guys, otherwise it will be tough sledding in the SEC.
The Best News in Spring Came off the Field
Outside of the great defense and walk-off game winning field goal. The 2023 Gators Spring game did not provide the highlights many fans wanted to see. However, a major commitment from Elite Safety Xavier Filsaime and the next stage of Florida’s NIL game provide lots of hope for the future. This past week the Gators Collective was bought by Jose Costa and rebranded itself as Florida Victorious. Many view this move as necessary to take the next step in the NIL landscape and recruiting game. Between that and Napier’s 4th Top 60 commitment for the 2024 recruiting class, the future in Gainesville is bright. The questions is can fans continue to remain patient through the growing pains we witnessed this spring?