Billy Napier
Gators quarterback Graham Mertz throws the ball in the football team's scrimmage on Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Brieanna Andrews.

Spring Camp Ends With a Walk Off Game-Winner in Orange and Blue Game

All blue skies were there as Gator fans stroll in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for an evening of Orange and Blue football on Thursday. The Florida Gators concluded spring football camp with a jam packed affair, the second one under head coach Billy Napier.

Thursday’s showcased brought out over 40,000 fans in back-to-back years and nearly 300 high school recruits. But, all eyes were on Graham Mertz and Jack Miller in their quarterback battle.

Key Takeaways From the Game

Florida’s defense came to play Thursday as they held the offense to an eye-opening two scores for the majority of the game. The aggressive defense was on full display as it threw numerous blitzes and combo coverages in which Mertz and Miller seemed flustered.

Throughout the game, the Gator defense forced a “muddy” pocket as Napier put it that contributed to nine total sacks and multiple quarterback pressures in the contest. New defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong and inside linebacker coach Jay Bateman held the play calling duties, limiting the UF offense.

Led by inside linebacker Shemar James and redshirt freshman Deuce Spurlock, Florida’s stingy defensive units did not let up in the second half as they only allowed three points. The two backers combined for 14 total tackles and a sack.

High and Lows on the Offensive Line

Another revealing component in Thursday’s spring game was the play of the offensive line. As the passing game struggled early, Florida’s rushing attack saw their fair share of flashing moments; spearheaded by the duo of Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson Jr.

Etienne led all rushers with nine rushes for 58 yards including an impressive 28-yard burst in the final period. Johnson’s saw nothing but green grass in the second quarter with a 27-yard scamper to start what seemed to be a promising drive. Except, a forced fumble by second year safety Kamari Wilson stifled that.

Midway through the second, Mertz completed a dart to sophomore wide receiver Caleb Douglas for 28 yards. The 6-foot-3 pass catcher wiggled his way to the red-zone before a man-on-man collision with Wilson, jaunting the ball loose.

While, the rushing game was definitely an aspect Napier and staff should be pleased about however, a simple center to quarterback exchange was not. Florida struggled snapping the ball during the duration of the game. Mertz and Miller was seen leaping for high snaps and mishandling the ball. So much so, it became drive killers that forced punts. Mertz said they will get that area cleaned up moving forward.

Graham Mertz and Jack Miller Battle It Out

Both Mertz and Miller had slow starts but the two quarterbacks picked up their play after a questionable opening quarter.

Mertz took the field for the Orange team as he received cheers from the Gator crowd. However, the graduate transfer’s first outing was not as he expected.  A first stint under center ended with a quick three and out including, a sack in his first snap. However, Mertz found wideout Xzavier Henderson on a short outlet pass for his first completion on the night.

After the game, Mertz expressed his thoughts on his play early on.

Late in the first half, down a score Mertz’s play progressed as he successfully completed the two-minute drill. He found  Ricky Pearsall down the right sideline before finding Kahleil Jackson in the end-zone to tie the game at 7-7. The former Wisconsin Badger talked about the play.

For Miller, he too took a while get in rhythm but he also engineered a TD drive.  The redshirt sophomore scrambled outside the pocket before finding Marcus Burke in the back of the end zone. The completion capped off a 12-play 82-yard drive, claiming the lead.

Burke’s night was not over yet as he snagged in an acrobatic reception for 39-yards from the arm of Mertz.

For the game, Miller ended the game 10-for-20 with 144 yards while Mertz was 18 of 29 for 244 yards passing.

Here is Miller thoughts on the game.

Late Game Heroics

The game was decided on a game winning field goal by Trey Smack from 46 yards away to give the Orange a 10-7 win over the Blue.  UF special teams struggled some however, missing two field goals including hitting the left upright on a 24-yard attempt.

layers stormed he field and corralled the sophomore kicker.

Now, Napier and the Florida Gators will look ahead to summer workouts as they concluded an eventful spring camp.

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