Here are a dozen observations from Florida's way too close 27-14 season opening win over Bowling Green.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME
Is there really any question? On a week where his head coach wanted to do nothing but run the ball, senior running back Mike Gillislee came through with career-highs in carries (24) and rushing yards (148) to lead the Gators over the Falcons. Gillislee also scored two touchdowns, both coming in the second quarter on breakaway runs of 15 yards and 38 yards, respectively. If Gillislee can keep providing performances like this throughout the regular season, he could go a long way to solving some of Florida's offensive woes.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME
Despite the fact that the Gators had a number of defenders play quite well in the contest, sophomore Marcus Roberson proved once again that he is the team's best cornerback. He not only took advantage of a missed catch to haul in an interception, which he returned 31 yards, but also broke up three passes in the contest. Roberson's turnover was the only one registered a defensive unit that has been focused all off-season on being ball hawks and taking the ball away (special teams took advantage of a muffed punt for a second turnover).
UNSUNG HERO OF THE GAME
Failing to move the ball more than nine yards after Bowling Green failed to convert on 4th and three at Florida's 24 in the fourth quarter, the Gators were gifted a turnover opportunity when the Falcons' punt returner muffed the punt (an action partially caused by junior cornerback Cody Riggs) and it was recovered by junior long snapper Drew Ferris, who hustled 39 yards down the field to be in position to make the play. Ferris appeared to seriously injure his shoulder or collarbone on the play though his exact injury is not known as of yet.
STAT LINE OF THE GAME
Florida was 5-of-16 on third-down conversions with head coach Will Muschamp admittedly forcing his team to run the ball almost every time on short-yardage situations against a stacked box with as many as eight Bowling Green defenders. No matter the situation the Gators and Muschamp need to be significantly better in that area if they expect to be successful in league games. Luckily for Florida their defense held BGSU to 4-of-17 third-down conversions.
ON THE RISE
He may have had two drops earlier in the game but redshirt senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. came through in the clutch by catching a short pass, spinning out of a tackle and trucking all the way down field for a 50-yard score that put the Gators ahead 24-14 in the third quarter. Muschamp has called Hammond his most consistent receiver all off-season; his hands may not have proved that on Saturday but his playmaking ability certainly makes it seem like he can affect the team in a positive way this season.
ON THE BUBBLE
It is only one game so it is not necessarily fair to draw too many conclusions in this regard, but redshirt senior Omarius Hines is supposed to be a big-time playmaker for Florida this season yet he carried the ball four times for just 15 yards with one of those touches resulting in a lost fumble. Hines may not have had the payload he expected in the game, but he still has to be effective when he is on the field.
Completely adjusting the team's running style from a year ago, the Gators were still able to manage 5.2 yards per carry as a team with their best three runners all eclipsing that average on their own. UF out-rushed BGSU 220-101 in the contest and proved that they have a quarterback in sophomore Jeff Driskel who, when he gets out of the pocket, can make some things happen if a play breaks down.
After putting forth dominant special teams performances over the last few years, Florida looked relatively shaky on the unit at times. Though the Gators did recover a muffed punt, Florida's punt protectors allowed Bowling Green way too close to sophomore Kyle Christy on a couple of occasions. Christy's procedure looked like it could use some quickening up as well. Redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis also missed a 27-yard field goal at the end of the game after nailing two from 34 and 51 yards earlier in the contest. Muschamp thought a BGSU player might have gotten a hand on the ball, which is even more of a concern than Sturgis simply just shanking it off the post on his own. Finally, UF allowed a fake punt to be executed relatively easily.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Credit Roberson with helping turn the tide in the game. Just three plays after Hines coughed up the ball on Florida's side of the field, Roberson picked off Bowling Green QB Matt Schilz at the beginning of the fourth quarter to get his offense back on the field right away. The Gators responded immediately as, two plays into their series, Hammond broke away for the 50-yard touchdown reception that gave Florida a two-score lead late in the game.
THE GOOD NEWS
UF won and did so without throwing the ball, using many of the motions and shifts that were supposedly being worked on all off-season and showing much of their offensive or defensive playbooks. Muschamp obviously planned to be vanilla in the game and while the score was closer than fans may have liked, the result was still the same - the Gators are 1-0.
THE BAD NEWS
Discipline problems continue to plague a Florida team that was ranked 114th nationally (last in the SEC) in penalties last season. The Gators committed 10 penalties in the first half, 14 over the course of the game, and lost 106 yards by doing so. Florida not only had problems on both lines of scrimmage (offense, defense) but also saw some of its best players make bone-headed. Redshirt senior Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray got flagged for a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty, and redshirt senior WR Andre Debose was called for unnecessary roughness after nailing the Bowling Green punter after he was well out of bounds following the fake. Both penalties gave BGSU great field position; the Falcons scored on both drives.
A LOOK AHEAD
Florida goes from (supposedly) cupcake game to one of the most nerve-wracking environments in college football when they travel to College Station, TX to take on Texas A&M at 3:30 p.m. next Saturday. The Aggies' season opener and first-ever SEC game will be aired on ESPN with the network sending College GameDay over to broadcast live in the morning before the game.