clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Get to know the Florida Gators: McElwain’s team has plenty of young talent

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, guys. It’s game week. Let’s talk some Florida football.

Florida’s offense: Residual questions

I know there has been some jawing between Michigan and Florida fans online, and a subset of the Michigan fan base expects Florida to be pretty much the same as what they were in the last two years under head coach Jim McElwain - struggling on offense, with a poor pass game and bad quarterback depth.

But that is not what I saw on tape during the spring game, and not what we’ve heard coming from Florida circles this fall. As fun as it might be to take shots at McElwain (and he does make it pretty easy), he’s been patching up holes on the roster after taking over for Will Muschamp and he’s kept the team afloat in the meantime. The two biggest weaknesses from McElwain’s first two seasons - options at quarterback and play-makers on the offensive line - are starting to get filled.

At quarterback, I think the starter will be Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire (6’0”, 225), who brings experience, a strong arm, a TD-to-interception ratio of 8/0 and a lot of mobility to the offense. The mobility, even more than any benefits from age or maturity, will be what gets him the nod, in my opinion.

Zaire showed a lot of potential at ND, but lost the starting job early in the 2016 season to DeShone Kizer, an eventual 2nd-round pick (and now first-year starter) with the Browns. It wouldn’t surprise me if Zaire finally put together a statistically dominant season this year; he’s looked sharp most of the time he’s been on the field. He is a wild card with how he plays sometimes - he will have these half-crazy, half-genius back-handed ball tosses to make pass gains or avoid a sack when he’s scrambling.

The Gators have a room full of back-ups who could also take the reins, and that is where they differ from previous seasons when depth was a big concern. The other big name to know here is Feleipe Franks (6’6”, 219), who we’ll call Florida’s version of Brandon Peters for the purpose of this conversation. He’s a redshirt freshman, very highly touted, and the only question is whether he can upend a veteran or have to wait another year to get his turn. As Dan covered in more depth yesterday, he’s more of a pocket passer, and our defense could go to town on him.

They also have another redshirt freshman, Kyle Trask (6’4”, 238), who can sub in and mimic some of Malik Zaire’s running in the pocket, and there’s also redshirt junior Luke Del Rio (6’1”, 211), an occasional starter from last year. Having Del Rio as your #3/#4 option is not bad at all - the guy went 5-1 as a starter last year despite some distinctly mediocre numbers and a few injuries. He’s got experience but a lower ceiling.

Missouri v Florida
Martez Ivey, Florida’s left tackle
Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The other big question from past years was the offensive line, and while this unit is not perfect, they are a large group of athletic bigs that will be able to push the line of scrimmage against most teams. They also have a running back behind them, Jordan Scarlett (5’10”, 213), who might be one of the ten best backs in the country and can make a lot from any hole he’s given.

The bad news for Florida fans, and the good news for Michigan fans, is this offensive line is going to allow pass pressure. They’re a little young across the board, and their technique was not in good shape during the spring game. McElwain went so far as to bring in a new offensive line coach this past off-season - a genial guy named Brad Davis who was coaching North Texas last year - and we’ll see what he does with them. They’ve been at their best when they just bull doze the guy across from them, but even there it’s mainly because of their strength. The run game will be an interesting dynamic to keep an eye on.

Another big thing that Florida will have in their favor is the depth and versatility of their play-makers. I’ve mentioned Scarlett, who’s got tremendously precise and quick footwork around the line to capitalize on any openings, plus the burst and size to take a hit in the trenches and keep his feet churning for more yards. (His balance is impeccable, even when he’s hit. Guys just bounce off him.)

Scarlett may not be the fastest guy on the field, but he’s got crafty speed and acceleration and is terrific at running through a crowd. Beast Mode, Jr. is actually a very good description for the young guy.

Behind him, we’ll see Lamical Perine (5’11”, 221), who’s not as quick as Scarlett but is mobile enough and packs a good punch. The same could be said of the other back-up, redshirt senior Mark Thompson (6’2”, 237), who we’ll call Florida’s version of Ty Isaac for the purposes of this conversation. Thompson has had recurring problems holding onto the football, which is a quick way to the bench, but he’s an elder statesman and a stud athletically.

NCAA Football: Florida Spring Game
Antonio Callaway can, uh, do stuff.
Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

At wide receiver, Michigan will luckily not have to worry about Antonio Callaway, but there will still be a half-dozen other options between the receivers and the tight ends combined. Expect some more chances for Josh Hammond (6’1”, 187) and Tyrie Cleveland (6’2”, 205), and combined with a couple short, fast change of direction guys - Brandon Powell (5’8”, 189) and Dre Massey (5’9”, 186) - plus a couple decently athletic tight ends, I think this will be a handful for Michigan’s young secondary. Not impossible to handle, but they’ll certainly have their hands full.

What’s the takeaway from all this? Well, I think this team has a lot of talent, and not only that, they have a diversity of talent that could make life difficult for a young defense. I like Michigan to be able to challenge their pass game, thanks in large part to their pressure up front, and I think we’ll have our hands full against the run but could be in solid shape there, too. But this will be a hard battle and Malik Zaire’s mobility could be a game breaker.

Florida’s defense: Hope for a soft interior

On defense, this will be a great unit overall, and I think people are going to be surprised by their depth even though there are some concerns there in the early going. The defensive line is mostly unproven after they lost star defensive tackles Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie to the NFL, but they have great depth at defensive end and a couple of veterans and decent options at DT - enough to where I think they’re actually in okay shape. (Kyree Campbell is the main back-up who I respect. Dude can play.)

I like the linebackers, as well, and they have some real athletes here - in fact, this is one of the better positions on the whole team. They have multiple guys who can exist in pass coverage - Kylan Johnson (6’1”, 231) and Jeremiah Moon (6’4”, 218) - and their MIKE is a former Michigan commit, David Reese (6’0”, 244). He’s motivated to play against the team he used to be committed to.

Reese is backed up by a poor man’s David Reese, Cristian Garcia, who’s kind of on par with Michigan’s back-up MIKE, Michael Wroblewski. Then there’s Vosean Joseph, their other outside linebacker, who just might be my favorite of the bunch. Great, great athlete and a guy who’s a 6’1”, 226-pound true sophomore. His claim to fame at this point was a hit he laid on LSU’s Danny Etling last year. He’s young, like I said, but he’s got all the athleticism and play-making you’d want from a space-backer.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Florida vs Iowa
Vosean Joseph
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The secondary has also had some major attrition this off-season, and they lose both starting corners to the NFL. They’ll rely on Duke Dawson (5’10”, 202) and a true freshman, Marco Wilson (6’0”, 177), at corner - while Chauncey Gardner (6’0”, 207) and Nick Washington (6’0”, 198) will man safety.

I like their first-string secondary a fair bit. These guys are athletic, fluid and tough, and even without Marcell Harris who’s out for the season, I think they can feel confident with this group going through the season. I’m sure you’re thinking about the true freshman; looking back at his Hudl, Marco Wilson has a lot of instincts and physical skills that make me think he’ll be able to swim with the big dogs, so hats off to him.

In conclusion, this team reminds me a lot of Michigan - just with a little more experience. They have more veteran options at receiver and in the secondary, at linebacker and on the offensive line. They’re strong and talented. It’s going to be a good game.