Report card: Little to feel good about for Florida in opener

DALLAS — There’s no satisfaction in kicking somebody when they’re down, so the process of assigning grades to Florida’s season-opening performance is no more enjoyable than it was to watch Saturday’s game.

The Gators got a “whooping,” as coach Jim McElwain candidly and accurately described Michigan’s 33-17 thrashing of suspension-depleted Florida.

He seemed genuinely stunned that such a worst-case scenario performance was not in the scope of outcomes he had considered.

“Plain and simple, take your whooping. I’m taking it,” he said.

That was a concise a summation of Florida’s loss to the Wolverines at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

With that said, here’s one more look back:

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Quarterback — D

The offensive line play, which we’ll get to, made it very difficult for the quarterbacks to have any success Saturday.

But there’s simply nothing to look at and say the group deserves a better grade than this.

Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks made his first career start and didn’t survive three quarters, finishing 5-of-9 passing for 75 yards. He led the Gators down the field for a field goal on the opening drive — the only points the offense would score.

Optimists will point toward his nice 34-yard over-the-shoulder completion to Josh Hammond on his first attempt and his 16-yard scramble for a first down. Pessimists will note that he led the Gators to just four first downs in six series, tripped on two drop-backs, recovered one of his fumbles and lost another on a scramble.

This is not to write off Franks in any way. It was a lot to ask to have him make his college debut on that stage against that team. Maybe, in hindsight, it wasn’t best idea.

Malik Zaire also made his Gators debut. The graduate transfer finished 9-of-17 passing for 106 yards and took 5 sacks behind that crumbling line.

McElwain admitted he even thought about going to a third quarterback in Luke Del Rio, and he said the coaches would ‘take a look’ at the position before deciding their direction for next week.

The position remains totally unsettled, which is not a good place to be a week into the season.

Running back — D

Florida’s best rushing attempt that didn’t come from a quarterback fleeing the pocket was freshman Malik Davis’ 8-yard run on his first collegiate carry.

He didn’t get another handoff the rest of the game.

Meanwhile, sophomore Lamical Perine slogged his way to 8 rushing yards in 11 carries while Mark Thompson rushed for 13 yards on 5 attempts. Thompson had a nice redirection touchdown run called back by a holding penalty, unfortunately.

So Florida’s best rushing play was one that didn’t officially happen.

Suspended star running back Jordan Scarlett may have accounted for a couple extra first downs, but there simply weren’t many holes to run through Saturday.

Wide receiver/tight end — B

Sophomore Tyrie Cleveland looked like the breakout candidate many expected.

He finished with 4 receptions for 56 yards, including a 31-yard catch from Franks where he came back to the throw to make a play, and a 22-yard catch from Zaire while skying to haul in a high pass.

Hammond, meanwhile, had 3 catches for 71 yards. The receivers weren’t the problem in this one.

Offensive line — F

To keep this brief, Florida gave up 6 sacks, kept its quarterbacks under duress in a collapsing pocket much of the game, allowed a sack in the end zone leading to a fumble and touchdown and created so few running lanes that the offense finished with an average of 0.4 yards per carry (including the lost sack yardage).

“They beat us every which way they could up front and we never had an answer,” McElwain said. 

Defensive line — B-minus

Michigan had 215 yards of rushing and averaged 4.4 yards per carry, so not a dominant showing up front for the Gators by any means.

But the defense also was on the field a ton and generated some big plays in the backfield, with defensive linemen combining for 5 sacks and 8 tackles for loss.

Sophomore end Jachai Polite looked like he could be a real factor this fall, tallying 6 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and a sack. Redshirt senior Jordan Sherit made a nice return from injury with 5 tackles and 2 sacks.

And freshman Kyree Campbell saw a lot of playing time inside.

Linebackers — C-minus

David Reese led the Gators with 11 tackles, including 1 tackle for loss, but it was an otherwise quiet day from the linebacker corps.

Kylan Johnson had 4 tackles off the bench, Jeremiah Moon totaled 3 and starter Vosean Joseph had just 1 tackle.

Florida could have used a few more plays from this group.

Secondary — B

The back-to-back interception returns for touchdown in the second quarter by senior Duke Dawson (48 yards) and freshman C.J. Henderson (41 yards) gave the Gators the only momentum they had all day.

Henderson was one of three freshman to see significant playing time in the secondary along with starting cornerback Marco Wilson and safety Shawn Davis.

With senior safety Nick Washington briefly leaving with an injury in the first quarter, Michigan went right at Davis for a 46-yard touchdown pass. Davis looked comfortable out there before that play, though, and he’ll be fine.

Special teams — C-minus

Eddy Pineiro went 1-for-2 on field goals, making from 46 yards before missing a 47-yard try that snapped a streak of 13 consecutive makes dating back to last season.

Punter Johnny Townsend was terrific as usual, averaging 54.7 yards on 6 punts.

Cleveland had a costly fumble on a kickoff return.

Coaching — F

After a preseason full of praise and hype and optimism and all that good stuff, the Gators simply weren’t ready for the challenge that awaited them Saturday.

The defense gave Florida a chance to win. This is about the offense.

The offensive line, as mentioned, was the biggest letdown of the game after receiving nothing but compliments and lofty projections in the preseason.

Beyond that, though, the play-calling was yet again underwhelming and head-scratching. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is understandably receiving the bulk of the fan base’s frustration.

If last year wasn’t, then this is certainly a make-of-break year for Nussmeier, whose offensive at Florida has ranked in the bottom tier of the FBS each of the last two years.

Fans have been salivating all preseason at the thought of what speedy slot weapons Dre Massey and Kadarius Toney could add to the offense, if used creatively. Massey got 1 catch for 2 yards and Toney didn’t touch the ball until the final minutes of the fourth quarter.

McElwain said the Gators needed to do a better job involving their “get-it-to” guys and noted that Massey and Toney were actually a big part of the game plan. “There was some stuff we didn’t get to,” he said.

And with the rushing game desperate for any signs of life, how does Malik Davis not get another carry after turning his only touch into 8 yards? Head-scratching.

End result: 192 yards of offense for Florida while getting outscored 14-3 by the Gators defense.

Also, the quarterback plan left a lot to be desired. Now the Gators have to see how much of a confidence hit Franks took by being yanked out of his first start.

The post Report card: Little to feel good about for Florida in opener appeared first on SEC Country.

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