The Florida Gators wore throwback uniforms Saturday night against East Carolina, but their uninspiring performance looked a lot like recent history.
Although the coach Jim McElwain era started with a bang last weekend, the demons of the Will Muschamp era endure.
The Gators, who wore all-orange uniforms for the first-time since 1989, barely snuck past the pesky Pirates 31-24 in front of 88,034 in The Swamp.
UF was a three-touchdown favorite, but it nearly lost at home thanks to turnovers (two), penalties (12 for 105 yards), red-zone woes (two missed field goals), inconsistent offensive line play and an unresolved quarterback battle.
Afterward, McElwain was incensed.
“Guys, that was embarrassing. We didn’t deserve to win the football game,” he said. “They look it to us.
“ Our lack of playing with discipline and understanding of how you play the game crept up. It was embarrassing. We’ve got a long ways to go.”
They sure do.
UF (2-0) survived after ECU quarterback Blake Kemp fumbled deep in Florida’s territory with 12 seconds remaining.
The Gators led 10-7 at halftime, as redshirt freshman Will Grier made his first career start against his father’s alma mater. Grier, who became the team’s eighth starting quarterback since 2009, didn’t exactly seize his opportunity, and his battle with sophomore Treon Harris remains ongoing.
Grier, a redshirt freshman, finished 10 of 17 for 151 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He made some excellent throws (a 32-yard bootleg touchdown to tight end DeAndre Goolsby, several wheel routes in tight windows), but he was also careless with the football (one interception, one fumble and nearly several more picks) and struggled facing pressure.
McElwain kept to his preset rotation, but sophomore quarterback Treon Harris didn’t fare any better. The former Booker T. Washington standout was just 5 of 8 for 54 yards, appearing totally out of sync as the two quarterbacks split series throughout the game.
“Very average,” said McElwain, when asked about the quarterbacks. “Offensively, we were very inconsistent.”
UF trailed 14-10 early in the third quarter, as Grier was picked off on a tipped pass, and one play later Kemp found wide receiver Isaiah Jones wide open down the seam for a 27-yard score.
The Pirates’ advantage didn’t last long, however, as Grier rebounded with a sharp series by targeting star wideout Demarcus Robinson.
UF retook the lead — one it wouldn’t relinquish again — on a 6-yard strike to Robinson.
Robinson, who was demoted to third-string Monday for an undisclosed reason, single-handily put the offense back on top with four receptions for 44 yards and the touchdown.
Later, UF padded its lead with a Jalen Tabor 39-yard pick-six and Kelvin Taylor 7-yard touchdown run.
But it barely held on.
Florida’s vaunted secondary, without All-American cornerback Veron Hargreaves III, was shredded for 346 passing yards —148 in the fourth quarter. Hargreaves injured his leg during Thursday’s practice, and the Pirates took full advantage of his absence with their dink-and-dunk attack.
“Obviously, you lose one of the best college football players you’re going to take a step back,” McElwain said. “But you deal with what you have and move forward.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ ECU received a $1.2 million payout for the game.
▪ UF defeated an opponent twice in the same calendar year for the first time since 2000 (Auburn).
▪ Five-star freshman left tackle Martez Ivey (knee scope) and starting safety Keanu Neal (hamstring) both missed their second game in a row with injuries.
▪ Freshman wideout Antonio Callaway, a former star at Booker T. Washington, served as UF’s punt returner with Hargreaves sidelined.
▪ Gators linebacker Alex Anzalone, UF’s leading tackler in the opener, injured his shoulder in the first half and did not return.
▪ As part of the SEC’s initiative to promote prostate cancer awareness, Florida honored former league commissioner Mike Slive at halftime.