QBs, new offense take spotlight for Gators spring debut
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A spring game with a new offensive coordinator is inevitably going to be about the quarterbacks.
Welcome to the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut.
Florida’s new-look, up-tempo, spread offense was unveiled Saturday before a crowd of 35,834 at “The Swamp,” with the spotlight on the return of quarterback Jeff Driskel and the passing game installed over the last month by Kurt Roper, whose explosive, up-and-down-the-field offense at Duke got him a phone call and job offer from UF coach Will Muschamp last December.
"I thought offensively we had really good tempo today," Muschamp said after watching his offenses run 111 plays with a running clock in a game that ended in a 23-23 tie. "Our kids have been very receptive and have confidence in what we’re doing. I think it’s a good fit moving forward."
Driskel, the fourth-year junior on the comeback from a season-ending broken leg suffered in September, completed 19 of 33 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown on a breezy, sun-splashed day at Florida Field that ended when Muschamp stopped the action after a game-tying touchdown with seven seconds remaining.
"I think we’ve done a good job these 15 days [of spring practice], picking up the pace. And picking up the tempo," Driskel said after operating exclusively from the shotgun in Roper’s no-huddle attack. "We’re gonna build on that. We want to play fast."
Senior tailback Mack Brown rushed eight times for 55 yards, all in the first half. His tough inside running helped set up the first Blue touchdown — a 2-yard run from sophomore Kelvin Taylor (4 carries, 29 yards) — and his 19-yard run to the Orange team’s 1-yard line led to the second. Brown scored on the next play.
The Blue team’s final touchdown came on a strike from Driskel to sophomore wideout Demarcus Robinson, who got open on a crossing route and then made a nice cutback move to take the ball untouched into the end zone.
Fifteen different receivers caught passes for the two squads.
"It’s like being in the back yard and throwing the football around," sophomore wideout Ahmad Fulwood said of Roper’s passing scheme.
While Driskel played the entire game for the Blue team, sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg and heralded freshman Will Grier split reps for the Orange.
Mornhinweg, who started the final three games of the 2013 season after Tyler Murphy (Driskel’s replacement) was lost to a shoulder injury, finished 14 of 18 for 149 yards and two scores. The first was a 12-yarder to freshman Chris Thompson in the first half on a rollout; the second a 10-yard fade to walk-on tight end Bair Diamond that came on the game’s final drive to tie the game. Muschamp opted to call it a day from there, even with a few seconds still on the clock.
Grier started slowly, missing his first three attempts (the last an interception), but went on to finish 8-for-15 for 72 yards.
Sophomore placekicker Austin Hardin, who struggled with consistency last season, kicked for both squads and made good on all four of his field-goal attempts (from 43, 42, 24 and 35 yards), but hit the upright on a failed extra-point attempt. Frankie Valez kicked the game-tying PAT to close out the day.
The final offense tallies for a game played mostly with a running clock had the Blue team with 312 yards (171 passing, 141 running) and the Orange with 294 (221 passing, 73 running). Redshirt freshman tailback Adam Lane took reps with both squads and rushed 12 times for 64 yards, while Robinson, Fullwood, Thompson and senior Quinton Dunbar each caught four passes.