Game two of the Jim McElwain era is at hand.
Are you ready for some football?
The Gators came out of the gates strong last week in their season opener pasting New Mexico State 61-13.
This week they face a slightly more difficult test in East Carolina, the team they beat a little over 9 months ago in the Birmingham Bowl 28-20.
In that one the Gators gave up 536 yards of offense including 427 yards passing by quarterback Shane Carden (34-66,2 td’s, 2 Int’s).
Carden has graduated and third stringer Blake Kemp is the new starter after backup Kurt Benkert went down with a season-ending knee injury.
Kemp was efficient in their opener going 29-37 for 237 yards with 1 td and 1 int leading the Pirates to a 28-20 victory over FCS foe Towson.
They didn’t ask him to do too much in his first start giving him an opportunity to settle in.
“Blake did a good job for a first game,” according to Pirate head coach Ruffin McNeal.”In any game, but especially first games, we give them what they can handle, not too much.”
The Gators defense will once again have their hands full with a quick-tempo, short passing game. They’ll need to have an effective plan to rotate lineman as the East Carolina tempo can wear down lineman and make it difficult to substitute players.
On that note, the Gators get back starting defensive end Alex McCalister from a game one suspension. They will need his speed off the edge if they hope to get pressure on Benkert.
Also back this week are safeties Marcus Maye (suspension) and hard hitter Keanu Neal (injury).
They will be needed this week as well as it’s all-hands-on-deck in the secondary with the Pirates penchant for passing. You’ll likely see the Gators in nickel and dime coverage most of the game.
For the Pirates, does the familiarity of meeting twice in nine months help at all?
Probably not as this is a much different Florida team particularly on offense.
“What we talk about is nothing last year counts,” Ruffin said. “Whether it was tackles, touchdowns or whatever you did. This is a whole new team.”
Indeed they are different teams on both sidelines. Florida has a new coaching staff, a new quarterback in Will Grier who gets his first career start on Saturday, several new receivers and a couple new running backs who all made their collegiate debuts last week, as well as a new pro-style offensive scheme installed by McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
This Gator team on paper at least looks to be much improved over the one the Pirates faced in Birmingham. That point is not lost on Ruffin.
“It’s an SEC team. They’ll be very talented,”Ruffin said. “They have a lot of NFL guys on that team. We know that. They have a great staff. Any experience you go through helps. You have to back it up and you can’t get lost. You have to re-frame this thing, stay focused on our team concept and never get away from that.”
Although Grier gets the start this week, last week’s starter Treon Harris will split time just as the two did last week.
Grier will likely start the first quarter or so and then Harris should come in during the middle part of the game and then back to Will. McElwain said they like to rotate them around 4 series blocks.
Last week the offense was efficient, not flashy but can they maintain that efficiency this week against a step-up in competition?
Can the team as a whole continue their level of disciplined play? They only committed one penalty last week, something that hadn’t been done at Florida since Doug Dickey was head coach.
Much has been written this week of the depth chart that listed potential first round receiver Demarcus Robinson as third string. Apparently, this was the penalty for skipping a team meal.
However, as coach Mac opined, don’t read too much into that. While DRob, as he is affectionately known, may not be on the field for the game’s first snap he will most certainly play early and often.
He’s their best receiver and best deep threat at this point.
Expect to see a healthy dose of the running game with an improved Kelvin Taylor and two true freshman phenoms Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Scarlett.
The trio led the Gators to a 224 yard rushing effort with each scoring a td.
The Gators tight ends, an area of renewed focus for the Gators under the new staff had a great game as well last week. The trio of Jake McGee, DeAndre Goolsby, and C’Yontai Lewis finished with 7 catches for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns by Lewis.
Expect that trend to continue against the Pirates.
Defensively, the Gators must get off to a better start than last week when they gave up 13 points and 200 first half yards, although one td was set up by a Will Grier fumble.
The Pirates fast tempo passing game will be a huge test for this defense, considered to be one of the nation’s best. If they come out flat and making communicating mistakes they could find themselves in a quick hole.
I expect, however, that the staff has gotten their attention this week and they’ll come out with more fire and focus.
All in all, despite the step up in competition this week, the Gators, with an improved team over the one that eked out a victory in Birmingham, should cruise to victory.
I don’t see the Gators putting up 61 this week but I still think they get an easy victory in front of a raucous home crowd in the Swamp.