Five Question Friday: East Carolina Pirates vs Florida Gators

Every Friday through football season Swamp Music will offer five questions pertinent to that week’s game.

1) This week the Gators are “flipping the script” from last week and giving redshirt freshman Will Grier his first collegiate start. Last week’s starter Treon Harris, of course, will split time just as they did last week. 

Will Harris and Grier continue to be as efficient as they were last week when they finished a combined 30-37 for 381 yards and 4 td’s with no interceptions? 

This week’s opponent is a major step up in competition from last week’s opponent New Mexico State and a team the Gators eked by in the Birmingham Bowl last January 3rd.   

For Harris to be successful he’ll need to speed up his decision making in the pocket, he was late on throws last week playing tentatively and had difficulty completing his progressions.

For Grier, ball security was an issue last week on the sack fumble sonething he’ll have to correct this week if he hopes to remain in competition for the starting job. His big arm, quick release, and decisiveness in the pocket, however, make him the odds-on-favorite to eventually win the competition.

2) How well will the young patchwork offensive line fare against a quality opponent like East Carolina?

Coming into this season the Gators had only one player (Trip Thurman) who had ever started a game at Florida after starting right tackle Rod Johnson was forced to quit football due to a congenital health issue.

The Gators received a boost when Fordham offensive tackle Mason Halter transferred in, taking advantage of NCAA graduate transfer rules. Sophomore David Sharpe is back at one tackle spot and is very talented as well as Antonio Riles, a converted defensive lineman, at guard who has been at Florida seemingly forever. 

Additionally the Gators will rely on a trio of talented freshman Martez Ivey, Tyler Jordan, and Big Fred Johnson this season. All are physically prepared to compete at this level although Ivey will sit at least another week before making his collegiate debut due to a knee scope to clean up prior issues which took place a couple of weeks ago.

The unit had some issues last week particularly in pass protection that they must clean up if the young quarterbacks have a chance to be successful.

3) Will the surprisingly disciplined Florida Gators team show up again this week?

The Gators had one, count it, one penalty against New Mexico State last week. The last time a Florida team only committed one penalty in a football game was back in the 70’s when Doug Dickey was the head coach.

If you’ve watched the Gators at all over the last three decades you understand that this team has long been one of the more penalized teams in the conference and in the nation. 

The one penalty game is a testament to how coach Mac and company coach the game. He’s a stickler for discipline and it showed last week.

For the Gators to be successful against a high powered offensive team like East Carolina they must control the football and the clock by sustaining drives on offense. In order to do so with a young team they must avoid costly drive killing penalties. 

4) Can the vaunted Gators defense shut down the high powered, quick tempo short passing game of the Pirates?

If so, they’ll have to get off to a better start than last week where they gave up 200 yards of offense and 13 points in the first half. Luckily they made some halftime adjustments and settled down to hold them to five second half yards and no points.

They cannot wait that long this week.

In the Birmingham bowl the Gator defense surrendered over 500 yards of offense and over 400 yards passing to the Pirates.

The good news? 

The quarterback who shredded the Gator defense is gone, replaced by a first year QB that was third on the depth chart, due to the expected starter going down with a season-ending knee injury.

Also, this is a different defense than the one that faced the Pirates in Birmingham.

Back is All-American corner Vernon Hargreaves, future first round defensive lineman Jon Bullard, and defensive captain and middle linebacker Antonio Morrison. 

But around him (Morrison) is a new set of linebackers including former five star Alex Anzalone who had stepped up his game considerably while Morrison was out rehabbing a knee injury of his own.

He showed last week why he was considered a five star recruit coming out of high school flying around sideline to sideline making plays and being a very vocal leader.

Bullard is also surrounded by a revamped cast of characters, all of whom are much improved, including Joey Ivie, Jordan Sherit, Caleb Brantley who has become a force on the interior, and Bryan Cox, Jr.

This unit will be tested by the up-tempo quick passing game of East Carolina and will need to rotate frequently as they’ll get winded chasing the quarterback.

Can they get to the quarterback? If they can it could be a long ride home for the Pirates.

The Gators’ secondary led by Hargreaves will be tested as well but the good news is they’ll get both Marcus Maye (suspension) and Keanu Neal (injury) back. They’ll need the depth as they will line up in nickel and dime coverage throughout Saturday’s game.

This unit is the deepest and most talented unit on the team and should match up well against East Carolina.

With Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson matching up with Hargreaves the Gators should be able to cover everything thrown their way this week.

5) Can the Gators receiving corps continue to catch everything thrown their way?

Considering how inept the Gators’ receivers have been the last few years, last week’s game was a welcome sight, where the only noticeable drop was Ahmad Fulwood’s gaffe.

Everyone expected the receiving corps to finally improve under this staff, particularly with head coach Jim McElwain being a former receivers coach, but it’s surprising how quickly their coaching has improved the play of the receivers.

In particular, the tight ends appear to be the strength of this corps with not one, not two, but three solid players at the position. The three 20th year grad transfer Jake McGee, sophomore DeAndre Goolsby, and redshirt freshman C’Yontai Lewis combined for 7 catches, 100 yards, and two Lewis td’s.

Keep an eye out for true freshman Antonio Callaway who secretly snuck into the starting lineup last week and was officially named there this week. The late steal in the last recruiting cycle came in prepared to not only play but play at a high level. 

Last week he had three catches for 26 yards, a speed sweep for eight yards, and one return for 19. Expect to see his level of involvement continue to increase moving forward. The kid is a flat-out playmaker.