No. 25 Florida used a late offensive outburst to take a 24-7 season-opening win over Massachusetts. It wasn’t the prettiest of sights, but here are three things Gator fans can take away from the game.
1.) Even Steve Spurrier’s presence couldn’t help the Gators make offensive plays
The Gators had 77 plays on offense Saturday night.
Only three ended up going for at least 20 yards.
On the night where UF honored offensive mastermind Steve Spurrier and, Florida was tried and true to its ways from the past five years and struggled to be explosive on offense against UMass.
"When you try to force [explosive plays], that’s when you turn the ball over, that’s when you get behind," said quarterback Luke Del Rio, who averaged 8.8 yards per completion in his first collegiate start. "Trying to make plays, that doesn’t work. It might work every now and then, but you’re going to lose more times than you win.”
Del Rio ended up settling for screens and checkdowns for most of the game.
Some of that was by design. Other times it was because the pocket collapsed and he needed to make a play. The rare attempts for long passes were either overthrown or dropped.
The running backs averaged 3.7 yards per carry, with just one of Florida’s 29 carries going for double digits.
The slow and steady method worked Saturday, but the Gators
“We’ve gotta get ‘em,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “We dropped a couple. … That’s something we’ve got to get a little bit better at, obviously. Like I said, this will be a big week for us in preparation for this game against an SEC opponent that probably thinks they’ll win.”
2.) The Gators have a kicker again
For three years, UF fans winced each time Austin Hardin stepped out to attempt a field goal. And with good reason, too. Hardin’s three-year career ended with him making 16 of his 36 tries (44.4-percent clip). Last year alone, Hardin missed nine of his 14 field goal tries and an almost unheard of five extra-point attempts.
Enter Eddy Pineiro.
The former soccer standout at Miami Sunset who never attempted a field goal in a live game easily made all three of his field goals on Saturday, tries from 40, 49 and 48 yards.
“This is a dream come true, I’ve worked my butt off,” Pineiro said. “Whoever says they don’t get butterflies or any emotions are a complete liar.”
After each kick sailed through the uprights, the crowd roared. Fans chanted his name each time he stepped up for a kickoff (once he realized which side of the field he needed to be on).
And he did enough to keep the game in Florida's favor.
"It’s always nice to have a reliable kicker and we’re really proud of what he’s done," Del Rio said. "He came in here and he earned the spot. We put him in some pressure situations in camp and he delivered, so we’re proud of him.”
3.) UF realized just how much it needs Jalen Tabor
With All-SEC corner Jalen Tabor suspended for Saturday's game, McElwain had the opportunity to give other players additional reps.
When Duke Dawson exited in the first quarter with an arm injury, UF's secondary depth slowly began to crumble.
Sophomore Chris Williamson was burned twice, once on a 24-yard completion on fourth and 14 to end the first quarter and again on a 53-yard catch-and-run from Andy Isabella one drive later.
In the second half, UMass quarterback Ross Comis found Isabella on a slant route that turned into a 30-yard gain.
With Dawson indefinitely sidelined, the Gators need all the help in the secondary that they can get.
That starts with getting their preseason All-American back on the field to pair with junior Quincy Wilson on the outside and safety Marcus Maye.
"It’s going to be huge," linebacker Jarrad Davis said about Tabor's return. "It’s going to help us with the pass rush a lot, he’s going to be back there locking guys down like he always does and we’re going to have a lot more numbers, be able to rotate guys in and out.”