The Florida Gators decided just three days ago to hold a traditional spring scrimmage Saturday.
Perhaps they shouldn’t have.
With limited offensive linemen, linebackers and tailbacks, Saturday’s Orange & Blue Debut was mainly a perfunctory exercise instead of a competitive game.
In front of a sparse crowd (roughly 10,000 fans), the glorified scrimmage featured as many punts (six) as the Blue Team tallied first downs, with an Orange Team stacked with stars ultimately prevailing 31-6.
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“We’ve got a ways to go,” new UF coach Jim McElwain said. “But this is a good group of guys and it’s fun to be around ’em. They’re motivated.”
Aside from a couple of 42-yard passing plays against walk-ons, UF’s revamped offense didn’t look much different than former coach Will Muschamp’s plodding attack.
Drops, protection issues and mental errors continued to plague a unit ranked in the bottom 20 nationally three of the past four years.
“It’s a work-in-progress,” McElwain said.
“Let’s face it, there’s parts right and we’re identifying the parts and we’ll put some plans together to help the explosive playmakers to have an opportunity to make those plays.”
Electric wideout Demarcus Robinson (four catches for 59 yards) is clearly the Gators’ top playmaker, but Florida’s search for a second one appeared to end with another fruitless camp. Two underclassman tight ends displayed flashes, but that was it.
Still, Saturday was never going to be a scintillating scrimmage.
Games in April count for nothing, and McElwain was handcuffed from the start with just 56 scholarship players.
The Gators’ crippled offensive line featured four walk-ons, and Kelvin Taylor was the lone scholarship tailback to see any real work (11 carries for 40 yards and two scores).
UF oddly played its dominant No. 1 defense against a No. 2 offense, so although the defense was impressive, context is important.
“As this program grows, that game will become a draftable game that will become competitive,” McElwain said.
“It’s kind of hard, especially with guys having to play on both squads. As I said, when we get the roster back we’ll juice this thing up. But I did the best I could. We did the best we could. Our O-line did the best they could and I’m proud of them.”
McElwain wasn’t particularly pleased with Saturday’s production or attention to detail, but he appreciated his team’s effort and hustle.
The quarterback competition between Will Grier and Treon Harris will continue into the fall, as neither one separated himself enough to be tabbed the starter.
Grier clearly has the upper hand though, as the redshirt freshman took the initial snaps with the first-team unit and finished the afternoon 8 of 11 for 136 yards.
Despite shaky protection, Grier avoided turnovers and his throws were mostly crisp. The rookie quarterback also seemed to let several drops sink his concentration and focus.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement,” he said. “We need to do a lot better, but we did get better this spring.”
Meanwhile, Harris, a star at Miami Booker T. Washington, made several plays with his legs and connected with Robinson on a 42-yard, back-shoulder fade, but his overall development continues to crawl at a slow place.
Harris, a sophomore, is admittedly behind Grier after missing several days of practice because of a death in the family. Harris’ footwork remains an issue and McElwain criticized his urgency and accuracy in the red zone.
“I have a lot of catching up to do,” said Harris, who started six games as a freshman last season. “I have to work on some things.”
Harris isn’t the only one, but it’s only April.
THIS & THAT
A number of notable players did not participate Saturday, including cornerback J.C. Jackson (precaution/shoulder), tight end Jake McGee (precaution/leg) and wideout Brandon Powell (foot). … Before the game, Florida held a moment of silence for former Gators coach Ray Graves, who died Friday at age 96. Graves is a College Football Hall of Famer after coaching UF from 1960 to ’69 and serving as the school’s athletic director from 1960 to ’79. … Starting right tackle Roderick Johnson missed the game with a shoulder stinger, but McElwain hinted that the sophomore’s injury could be more serious, potentially career-ending.