Before each game, Swamp Music will post 5 poignant things to look for each week and will take a postgame look back on Sundays. Yesterday the Gators got the victory over a talented and determined Toledo team in a game where the Gators dominated yet allowed Toledo to hang around just enough to keep it interesting.
1) Will Jeff Driskel show the improvement coaches and players have been raving about in the offseason?
If I were grading Driskel’s performance, I’d have to give him a B+ only because of the turnover (fumble) which wasn’t entirely on him but it did show a little bit of tentativeness on his part (he should have tucked it and ran). Overall, he was highly efficient, particularly in the first half where he finished 10-11 for 101 yards. He finished the game 17-22 for 153 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. Even better he looked in command of the offense for the most part and was very accurate, an area he struggled mightily last season. Equally as important, Driskel hit 8 different receivers including 4 for multiple receptions meaning he was able to go through his progressions and involve the entire offense in the passing game. He also was able to make downfield throws and get the ball into receiver’s hands where they were able to make easy catches and run with the football after the catch. It was only one game against a young, inferior defense but his performance was encouraging for Gator fans moving forward. A bigger test will come next week as the Gators hit the road to take on in-state rival the Miami Hurricanes.
2) Who will step up at wide receiver to make plays and become the go-to guy that Driskel can rely on this season?
With Driskel hitting eight different receivers, the answer is very encouraging: there are a number of guys to step up and make plays, but it appears the go-to guy will likely be Trey Burton. With 5 catches for 69 yards, Burton looks like he has improved his abilities in the passing game and was very reminiscent of Jordan Reed yesterday running with the football after the catch and leaping over defenders for extra yardage. A big surprise yesterday in the passing game was Valdez Showers who was converted from defensive back to running back in preseason camp and had four catches for 23 yards. One area offensive coordinator mentioned they would try to do a better job of this season is to get the ball to backs out of the backfield and they accomplished that yesterday with Showers and big fullback Gideon Ajagbe for a touchdown pass on a beautiful red zone play where they cleared out the zone with Burton and another receiver leaving Ajagbe wide open in the flat to walk in for the td. Again, it was one game but the Gator receiver play and game plan was encouraging for fans moving forward.
3) With Matt Jones out, how effective will the running game be?
Matt who? But seriously, folks, We won’t forget about Jones, who is expected back for this week’s game against Miami, but Mack Brown made the most of his opportunity in his first career start. Brown finished with 25 carries for 112 yards, including 97 in the first half and two touchdowns. He showed toughness, good vision, and repeatedly fought through tackles for extra yards including on his 14 yard td run where he pushed through a pile to score. Not bad for a career backup who had barely played and was thought to be in danger of being passed on the depth chart by true freshman phenom Kelvin Taylor coming into fall camp. Most important, Brown was never stopped for a loss nor ever stopped on first contact. Gator fans should be strongly encouraged at how Brown performed yesterday because the Gators now realistically have a great one-two punch at running back. Backups Mark Herndon and Kelvin Taylor also performed well in relief on the Gators last possession as they combined for 75 yards running out the last few minutes of clock time closing out the victory and ending just short of the goal line as time ran out.
4) With a revamped defense, particularly at linebacker and safety, how well will the Gators defense perform against a high powered Toledo offense?
The defense, if I were grading, gets a solid A for it’s suffocating performance yesterday. a couple of big plays kept it from getting an A+. Any questions about this revamped unit’s ability to live up to last season’s standards were certainly answered yesterday. For a game maybe. The defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage, the corners were outstanding and the safety play was excellent. Tackling was quick and sure all game long and they did a great job of bottling up running back David Fluellen and wideout Bernard Reedy. Quarterback Terrance Owens, while not sacked, was harrassed all day into hurried and inaccurate throws. This unit played fast, they played physical and looked every bit as good as last season’s unit was. Again, it was only one game but fans have to be excited at the potential of this defense considering how well they opened up the season.
5) Will the Gators pass rush be improved from it’s average numbers last season?
While lacking in the sacks, the defensive line did do a good job of pressuring the quarterback yesterday. Toledo’s offense utilizes a lot of quick throws and delayed handoffs, as well as quarterback runs so certainly the gameplan was more to contain and collapse the pocket rather than all out trying to get sacks. They were successful as the normally efficient Owens ended under 50% completions for the game (17-38) for only 155 yards with one interception. It was as dominating an effort from a line as one could have hoped for without the sacks. We’ll have to wait at least another week to see if the Gator pass rush can do a better job of producing sacks when they line up against Miami.
Overall, it was an outstanding effort on both sides of the ball outside of the numerous penalties and a lackadaisical third quarter where both units appeared to have lost the edge they played with in the first half. The defense, after giving up a couple of big plays and a couple of drives stiffened to hold Toledo to only two field goals for the game. Considering how potent and experienced this offense is, the defensive effort was outstanding. Offensively, they showed just enough in the passing game to give encouragement that this season will be different from last, and the running game looks solid. The deep and experienced line continually opened holes and gave Driskel time to throw. Next week’s game should show a little more about how good this team actually is and should provide a solid test for the Gators before opening SEC play against Tennessee.