Mac Attack Debut: Florida Gators vs New Mexico State

  
From the moment Jim McElwain was introduced as the Florida Gators new football coach, Gator Nation has been waiting with nervous anticipation for his debut. 

An offensive guru that won a national title as offensive coordinator under Nick Saban at Alabama, coach Mac, as he is affectionately known, quickly gained the support of Gator Nation which has been beaten down by the ineptitude of the Gator offense the previous five years.

Now the debut of the Mac Attack is at hand and the kickoff cannot get here quick enough.

The New Mexico State Aggies have the honorable distinction of being the big pay day sacrificial lambs for Coach Mac’s debut. 

The Aggies, a Sunbelt conference member from Las Cruces, New Mexico, will bring a highly overmatched squad into the Swamp Saturday evening. 

They finished last season with a 2-10 record, their second under head coach Doug Martin (4-20). There’s little to believe they will be much better this season. 

The defense is smallish and undermanned meaning the Gators inexperienced offense should have every opportunity to put on a show for eager Gator fans. It should help build a little confidence for the much maligned Gator receiver corps as well.

Offensively, the Aggies have a couple of talented players in running back Larry Rose III who had 1102 yards rushing as a freshman last season and sophomore receiver Teldrick Morgan who caught 75 passes for 891 yards. 

Last season they were respectable offensively averaging 420.9 yards per game overall passing for 241.6/game and rushing for 179.3/game.

Where they struggled last season on offense, however, was turnovers giving up 34 on the season.  

“The things we have to improve on to win games, and it’s not that many, offensively its turnovers,” according to Aggie head coach Doug Martin. ” We’ve got to protect the ball well and we didn’t do that last year. 34 turnovers and that was our Achilles heel offensively.”

“The turnovers just debilitated us.” He added.

With a year under their belt, their young skill players should be improved this season.

It’s safe to say, however, that no one on the Aggie offense has faced a defense with the talent the Gators will throw at them on Saturday night. 

From All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves to defensive captain Antonio Morrison to likely first round pick Jonathan Bullard, the Aggies will be overmatched offensively from the first snap. Expect to see the Gators younger players receive a ton of playing time.

The Gators defensive line, which is deep and talented but inexperienced, should benefit the most defensively from playing against the opening cupcake. Guys like Caleb Brantley, Bryan Cox, Joey Ivie, and “The Wyoming Wildman” Taven Bryan will likely have a field day against the Aggie offensive line which is actually the most experienced unit on the team.

But with the Aggies propensity for turnovers throwing against a deep and talented Gator secondary, it could be a long evening for the Aggies on Saturday.

On defense, the Aggies were porous giving up an average of 484.4 total yards per game. Statistically they looked decent defending the pass giving up an average of only 174.5 yds/game but that’s likely more to the fact that they were so weak against the run giving up 309.9 rushing yds/game an insane 6.3 yards per rush attempt. 

“It’s the average yards per rush on defense is where we’ve got to get better,” Martin said. “And it’s going to be a tremendous challenge against Florida being an SEC team.”

Junior running back Kelvin Taylor and senior Mark Herndon as well as true freshmen Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkite have to be licking their chops heading into Saturday’s matchup.

While the Gators likely will feast on an undersized and overmatched Aggie defensive line in the running game, fans are most eager to see the passing game. 

Treon Harris and Will Grier get a good patsy to help them build confidence and start the season on a positive note. The young receiving corps led by Junior Demarcus Robinson and sophomore Brandon Powell should have plenty of opportunities to showcase an improved skill group. 

One interesting winkle for fans to look out for is the possibility of cornerback Vernon Hargreaves playing some offense. In a search for playmakers, McElwain hinted as much to SI’s Thayer Evans.

“Vernon is as good a player in all aspects of the game as I’ve been around,” McElwain said. “Let me say this too, the guy loves to practice. He’s not a prima donna, which really to me is what sets him apart. I’ll go ahead and tell you, but we’ve got packages for him on offense too.”

Asked to elaborate, McElwain responded, 

“I’ll leave it at that.”

But besides throwing in a package for Hargreaves, there should be lots of other opportunities for the Gators to go deep into the receiver rotation and get some young guys solid game experience.

It will also provide a good opportunity for the young offensive line to get game experience and build depth. This is another area where the Gators could potentially go deep into the rotation.

So what is key for the Aggies to have a chance on Saturday evening?

“Just taking care of the football and playing physical on offense,” according to Martin. “We’re not going to go down there and beat Florida by 40 points. Nobody in the SEC is going to go out and beat Florida by 40 points. The way you win those games is you hang around, and you fight and claw and scratch and you get it into the fourth quarter and you’re within striking distance and you have a chance.”

Boy does that sound eerily familiar? 

It should for Gator fans who watched enough seemingly overmatched teams play it close to the vest against the Gators the last few seasons including FCS foe Georgia Southern who pulled off the huge upset two seasons ago. 

Realistically, however, the game will present little more than a tuneup for the Gators but should be a fun affair for the fans eager to finally see an offensive outburst in the Swamp before a much stiffer test a week later against East Carolina.

Swamp Music prediction: Gators roll 52-3.

 

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