Instant Analysis: Offense sputters

by Mark Wheeler
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It was an offense’s nightmare and a defense’s dream come true during the Florida Gators’ 2023 Orange & Blue Game, which ended in a 10-7 win for the Orange. Trey Smack drilled a 46-yard field goal as time expired.

Here is Inside the Gators‘ Instant Analysis.

Thumbs Up

Blue’s front seven on defense shined on Thursday night with multiple sacks, tackles for loss, and pressures off of creative blitzes. Simply put, they dominated the Orange offensive line. Blue squad had expected starters Princely Umanmielen (three tackles, one sack, one TFL, one QB hurry), Justus Boone, Caleb Banks (one sack and one TFL) and Cam Jackson. They also had Shemar James (six tackles, one sack, one TFL) and Scooby Williams (one sack, two TFL and one QB hurry) at linebacker. Give a lot of credit to defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong for dialing up blitzes from nearly every part of the field throughout the game.

Thumbs Down

On the other side, the offensive line for both teams struggled. Gave up three sacks in the first two series, including two by the orange squad, which was made up of the expected starters. Five different Blue defenders had sacks, and the Orange squad gave up an additional # tackles for loss. They also gave up # quarterback hurries. Meanwhile, the Blue offensive line had a plethora of snap issues from Roderick Kearney, including two on back-to-back plays that ended with a turnover. Now, the team was without Kingsley Eguakun and Micah Mazzccua, but the two groups’ performances left a lot to be desired.

Five Top Performers

Ricky Pearsall: Florida’s Reidel Anthony Receiver Award recipient led all receivers with 62 yards on four receptions. He didn’t find the endzone, but his acrobatic 41-yard catch from Graham Mertz set up the only Orange touchdown of the night.

Marcus Burke: Burke shined on Thursday night with the game’s first touchdown, a 16-yard reception from Jack Miller III. He also added a tremendous 39-yard catch while pinning the ball against Ja’Keem Jackson’s back. He finished the game with two receptions for 55 yards and one touchdown.

Jaden Robinson: The early enrollee had a relatively quiet spring camp but shined at linebacker for the Orange squad. He picked up a sack in the first quarter and was second in tackles for Orange with seven total. He added a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

Scooby Williams: The rising redshirt sophomore garnered quick praise during spring camp, and it was well-deserved after a strong performance in the spring game. Williams was a force in the backfield with two tackles for loss, one sack and one quarterback hurry.

Graham Mertz: It wasn’t the prettiest of starts for the Wisconsin transfer, who seemed to be under pressure almost every play. Despite that, he settled in the second quarter and played well on some downfield passes. He hit Caleb Douglas on a 28-yard pass on one drive and Ricky Pearsall on a 41-yard play after escaping pressure, which led to a 10-yard touchdown to Kahleil Jackson. Mertz finished the game going 18-for-29 for 244 yards and a touchdown.

This and That

It certainly wasn’t a pretty scrimmage after dropped passes, a few missed throws and struggles by the offensive line, and two missed field goals from Trey Smack before his game-winner. However, there were some positives to be found. Miller III and Mertz showed good poise after dealing with pressure from the defensive line and their own struggles at the beginning of the game. The defensive front on both teams made play after play with 14 total tackles for loss, nine total sacks and 11 total QB hurries.

That being said, this team needs a lot of work if they want to improve from back-to-back 6-7 seasons.

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