There’s been a dark cloud over Gainesville the past several years when it came to offensive football. Points were hard to come by and as the losses piled up, Gator fans decided to stay away.
Dark clouds were over Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at kickoff Saturday between the Florida Gators and New Mexico State Aggies, but it wasn’t long before Jim McElwain’s offense shined through.
When the clock hit zero at the end of the 4th quarter, the Gators had racked up 606 total yards of offense, 224 on the ground and 382 through the air off of the right arms of sophomore Treon Harris and red shirt freshman Will Grier. Harris, who received the start in this one at quarterback, threw for 215 yards and connected on a pair of touchdown passes. Grier was sharp as well, finishing with 164 yards through the air and adding 43 more on the ground en route to a three touchdown performance (two passing, one rushing). The play from both was enough to garner positive remarks from head coach Jim McElwain.
“I thought they both did a great job,” McElwain said. “We moved the ball with both of them. It’ll be interesting to see when we get to the film; I thought the whole team responded well to both of them.”
The tight ends were a huge part of the passing game, hauling in nearly a quarter of the total team receptions. Sophomore DeAndre Goolsby led the group with three receptions for 38 yards. Red shirt senior Jake McGee returned to The Swamp after breaking his leg in the opening game against Eastern Michigan last year and hauled in two passes for 18 yards. The standout of the group was red shirt freshman C’yontai Lewis. The young tight end recorded two receptions for 42 yards and a pair of touchdown grabs.
“When you execute in practice, you probably have a pretty good chance of having a pretty decent ball play on a Saturday,” McElwain explained. “He (Lewis) does a great job paying attention to the detail of what he needs to get done, and the quarterbacks, therefore, become comfortable with him and I think he proved it today.”
Unlike the offense, the defense has been a bright spot in Gainesville over the past several seasons. The Gators, however, were breaking in a new defensive scheme against the Aggies, and it showed early on. New Mexico State came out hot in the first half, racking up slightly over 200 yards of offense and putting 13 points on the board. Aggie running back Larry Rose III, tallied a total of 107 all-purpose yards on 12 touches during the half. The second half was a different story, as the Gators allowed a total of negative one yard offense for the half. UF junior linebacker Alex Anzalone tied for a team high of five tackles and was pleased with the second half adjustments.
“In the first half we were just getting our feet wet a little bit,” Anzalone explained. “In the second half we fought through some adversity, just a little bit, and came out and did really well.”
All American cornerback, junior Vernon Hargreaves III, was all over the field for the Gators in this one. He finished with four tackles and an acrobatic interception, pictured above. Not only was VH3 a menace on defense, he also made a reception on offense that went for six yards. Coach McElwain plans on continuing to use Hargreaves all over the field.
“Dynamic playmakers, you need to get the ball in their hands, and we need to continue to do that,” McElwain said. “We’ve got some things for him and, you know what, he’s a weapon, glad he’s on our team.”
Florida will take the field once again next Saturday evening as the East Carolina Pirates will come to Gainesville. The Gators defeated ECU 28-20 in the Birmingham Bowl back in January.