Here are Five Fast Thoughts after Florida's 35-14 season-opening win over Florida Atlantic.
1) Here tonight, to begin his fourth season, this is the first time we have seen the true Dan Mullen offense at Florida. While he will say he doesn't have a fixed offensive identity, but instead molds his offense to fit the talent on hand (and that is true to a degree), what he prefers to do is feature a power running game, with quarterbacks who are more than just so-called willing runners. We didn't see the shots down the field that we anticipated early on, and Emory Jones only completed one pass – a 15-yarder to Jacob Copeland – that traveled more than 10-yards in the air, but we did see an attempt to incorporate more of a vertical passing game when Anthony Richardson entered the game.
2) Speaking of Jones and Richardson, as much as he may want to downplay it, Mullen has a quarterback controversy on his hands. After the game when asked by Cole Cubelic and then during the post-game Zoom press conference, Mullen went out of his way to reiterate that Jones was Florida's starting quarterback, and that may currently be the case. But – and there’s always a but, for how long will that last if the two keep going in polar opposite directions? Jones clearly had issues running the offense when it called for anything other than handing off to his backs, keeping it himself, or dumping the ball off. The boost that Richardson gave the team, and the crowd, is – like his talent level – undeniable. Tonight may not be a full-on coming out party because I don't think Mullen is ready to pull the plug on Jones, but the truth is, if the talent disparity level between the two remains as wide as the Grand Canyon, Mullen might not have much of a choice.
3) Yes it was against Florida Atlantic, and yes the backups had some issues late in the game, but you have to give a big shout-out to the way Todd Grantham and the defense rebounded to answer the call after serving as a whipping post for most of last season. Overall Florida may have given up 352-yards, which is far from a great outing, but they had only surrendered 134 at the half. Though the first three-quarters of play they didn’t give up a pass completion over 15 yards and only one run against them went for over 10 yards. They recorded six sacks, held the Owls to 2.5 yards per rush attempt, and only allowed them to only convert 5-of-12 third-down attempts. That isn't a top 10 caliber outing for the defense, but it is a huge improvement over last season.
4) If Florida wants to continue trending upward on defense they are going to have to either make significant improvement at cornerback or make personnel changes at the position. Across the board, at every other position, the defense played well – even at safety, which was another concern coming into the game. However, it is simply due to good fortune that FAU didn't add a score or two at the expense of Avery Helm, who allowed receivers to get behind him at least three times on the night. Jason Marshall was only slightly better. Though he made a couple of boneheaded plays, Jadarrius Perkins played well in spots and might be the answer opposite Kaiir Elam going forward until the youngsters get a little more experience under their belt.
5) There were a couple of standouts on the night, but none surprised more so than Malik Davis, who many thought would be displaced by newcomers Demarkcus Bowman and Lorenzo Lingard (though he was on the squad last season) and relegated to backup duty and perhaps a slot receiver position. Instead, he not only started over Dameon Pierce, but he also answered the bell by rushing for 104-yards and a touchdown on 14 carries (a 7.4-yard average), while not catching a single pass. This will be an interesting battle throughout the season as we see how Mullen and Greg Knox rotate and utilize so many talented backs.