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Gators Show Promise at Orange and Blue Game

Gators Showed Promise

Coming into the Orange and Blue game, fans were eager to see their Gators for the first time in months. With a foul taste in their mouths from the end of last season, fans were hoping for some sparks. As expected, there were certainly some good aspects, as well as some bad. However, the Gators showed promise, as they performed much better during this game than during last year’s Orange and Blue game. The Gators showed promise on the offensive side, as fans were treated to some explosive plays, as well as some methodical drives. Not to be outdone, the defense came up with two turnovers to provide some hope for this oftentimes subpar unit. Despite some key mistakes both by coaching and players, fans should be content with what they saw on the field. Taking steps in the right direction, these Florida Gators showed promise and competed much better this past Saturday.

Offensive Firepower

For the Gators offense, it should have been no surprise to anyone to see Tre Wilson III have a big day. Racking up 128 yards receiving to go along with a touchdown, Wilson should find himself having a big season. The focal point of this offense, Wilson came up clutch on multiple occasions with some big plays on third downs. Coming up with the biggest play of the day, Wilson hauled in a 60-yard touchdown from quarterback Graham Mertz. Having quite a day himself, Mertz showcased his reliability and safe decision-making. Despite throwing an interception, it wasn’t an errant pass, rather it was simply a great play by Sharif Denson. Mertz finished the day completing 15 of his 27 pass attempts while throwing for 243 yards. Not necessarily his best completion percentage, Mertz still showed his poise under pressure, as he led a two-minute drill to win the game.

For the rest of the veteran playmakers, there weren’t too many head-turning plays. For running back Montrell Johnson Jr., his biggest contributions were when the ball wasn’t in his hands. Only having seven carries for 18 yards, Montrell still showed his poise blocking, and getting open in the receiving game. Despite the low stat line, there is no doubt that Johnson should be gearing up as one of the focal points of the offense. Not too much production was had from the Tight End room, with Arlis Boardingham only hauling in one reception. However, he showed up when he was needed, as it was his catch that put the Gators in range for the game-winning field goal. For the offensive line, Mertz had plenty of time to get the ball off, which was a good sign. The running game on the other hand still needs some work.

Making a Name for Themselves

Most of the younger offensive players suited up for the Orange team, as this offense consisted of the backups. With DJ Lagway leading the offense, fans were given a look at the pure talent that this young man possesses. Throwing for 171 yards and two touchdowns, Lagway showed his ability to make big plays. Completing a dart across the middle for a touchdown to young receiver Aidan Mizell, Lagway made several eye-popping throws. As with any young player, there will be growing pains, as he did throw an interception. However, Gator fans were shown that his future is a bright one, as he showed off his raw talent and athleticism.

Another player who showed off his talents was running back Jadan Baugh. Getting reps on the Orange team, fans were pleasantly surprised by his production. Breaking plenty of tackles and making crisp cuts, Baugh could see himself in line for early playing time. Carrying the ball 12 times for a total of 77 yards, Baugh made the most out of his touches. With Treyaun Webb taking second-team reps with the Blue team, Baugh set himself up for success. With heightened opportunities, fans got to see many players that don’t normally get playing time. Plenty of young athletes were able to take advantage and line themselves up for more reps in the Fall.

Defense Steps Up

It has been no secret that the entire defensive unit has struggled over the past few seasons. Whether it be the secondary and their inability to tackle, or the defensive line not being physical, some changes needed to be made. Starting on the coaching staff, Billy Napier decided to bring in defensive backs coach Will Harris from the Los Angeles Chargers. With a focus on tackling, the Gators showed promise during the Spring Game. Providing help in run support and staying sticky in coverage, the defensive backs looked much more disciplined. With the highlight of the Orange and Blue game being an interception from Sharif Denson, the defense should be much more well-rounded than in years past.

There are no handouts or starting jobs being given to the veterans on this team. Fans were able to see true freshman defensive lineman LJ McCray make some strong plays in run support. A 5-star on, McCray already finds himself competing to be a key contributor from day one. Other new additions that figure to have big roles are linebacker Grayson “Pup” Howard, and safety Asa Turner. Both are transfers. Howard led all defenders with six tackles for the Orange team. Turner, meanwhile, showed his tight coverage, as he had quite an impressive pass breakup. The Gators showed promise on the defensive side, flying to the football and staying step for step in pass coverage. Look for this new and rebranded defense to provide something that Gator fans haven’t seen in seasons past, physicality.

Special Teams Struggles

Despite Trey Smack kicking a game-winning field goal for the Blue team, fans were still witnesses to some shaky special teams. Trey Smack himself was certainly up to par, as he went 4/4 on his field goal attempts. However, backup Hunter Smith struggled mightily for the Orange team. Going 0 for three on attempts with two of his misses being within 35 yards. Although he isn’t the starter, this doesn’t bode well for the Gators if Smack were to ever go down for an extended period of time. Also under fire was the number of players on the field, as the Gators once again made a boneheaded mistake. On one of the extra point attempts, the Gators only had 10 players rushing on defense. For fans who experienced these pains last season against Utah, this wasn’t the greatest sign. Special Teams Coordinator Chris Couch has got to get this unit flowing, or fans will soon be calling for his job.


Gators Showed Promise
Photo courtesy: Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun


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