GAINESVILLE, Fla. — After watching just about every Florida player in uniform (and a couple not in uniform) go up and down Spurrier/Florida Field with next-to-no resistance Saturday, Gators fans must have left the annual Orange & Blue Game with grave concerns about their defense.
Disclaimer: This remark was made in jest. Just having some fun.
Like Dan Mullen likes this time of year.
Just like his first spring fling a year ago, Mullen made his second about having a blast in the "Swamp." On this warm and sun-splashed afternoon, fun translated into oodles of offense, with quarterback Feleipe Franks throwing for 327 yards and four touchdowns to lead his Orange squad to a 60-35 victory before a crowd of 39,496.
"I think that our players work hard. We demand a lot out of them and we push them in the offseason and in practice, so we let [this game] be more of a celebration day for them to have fun in front of family and friends," Mullen said. "Plus, we want to make it a festive activity. I want to make it a lot of fun for the campus."
And points are always fun, especially when both sides of the scoreboard belong to the home team.
The 95 scored Saturday were a record for the spring game, although a couple touchdowns came on manufactured (and fun) scores from former All-America players making cameo appearances — an interception return by Lito Sheppard and long touchdown catch from Chris Doering — much to the delight of folks in the stands. There was even a throw-back visor toss from a certain ambassador ball coach whose name is emblazoned across the top of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
When it was done, the two teams had totaled 920 yards of offense, including 762 and nine touchdowns through the air, and 12 plays that went for at least 20 yards. Oh, and no one was injured.
Raise a hand if cool with that.
Sophomore wide receiver Trevon Grimes caught four passes for a spring-game record 195 yards and two scores. Senior wideout Freddie Swain had five catches, 115 yards and two TDs. All-purpose back Kadarius Toney had four receptions for 94 yards and a score, plus threw a 40-yard completion to his quarterback to start the game. Backup quarterbacks Kyle Trask , the fourth-year junior, and Emory Jones , the redshirt freshman, each tossed a pair of scores. The Orange team's 441 passing yards also were a record on a day both teams combined to rush just 22 times, with 11 of those either scrambles, called runs or sacks of QBs.
"A lot of the points we put up this year were explosive plays through the air," Mullen said. "That's guys who are older, more experienced and know how to play within the system."
There was even a pick-six that wasn't a fix, so defense wasn't totally absent from the day.
On the game's first play, the Blue's Toney took a pitch from tailback Lamical Perine on an end-around, rolled to his right and lofted a nice touch pass to Franks deep up the right sideline for a 40-yard gain. The play led to a 14-yard scoring strike from Franks to Toney on third-and-10, with Toney snaring the ball and tip-toeing in the left corner of the end zone.
The first possession for Trask, whose 2018 season ended with a broken foot in October, and the Orange had a promising start, with a couple completions and a pass interference penalty helping get the ball to the Blue 22. But on second and 6, Trask eyeballed his receiver in the left flat a little too long and kept the ball in the air a little too long, as also.
Sophomore defensive back John Huggins plucked the interception and went untouched 80 yards for the touchdown and 14-0 lead for the Orange team barely five minutes into the game.
Trask was replaced on the second Blue possession by Jones, whose 26-yard scramble got his team to the Orange 25. From there, Jones finished the drive by zipping a 9-yard touchdown pass to wideout Tyrie Cleveland , the senior who missed UF's Peach Bowl victory over Michigan after suffering a broken collarbone in the regular-season ending rout of Florida State. The score was 14-7.
For all of 46 seconds, as it turned out.
"The sky is the limit," Cleveland said of the UF offense and array of playmakers. "Feleipe is very comfortable in the offense now. You can tell that out on the field. We just have to keep working and keep throwing."
On the next snap from scrimmage, Franks threw a seed down the left sideline that Grimes, having easily beaten safety Shawn Davis , took in full stride, then took to the house for a 65-yard touchdown and 21-7 lead for the Orange.
"We have a lot of great receivers. We have a lot of great weapons," Grimes said. "I knew my time would come."
In Grimes' case, it kept coming in this one. It actually came for a lot of guys.
Trask made up for his pick-6 on the next drive when he finished off a six-play, 65-yard drive with a 29-yard scoring toss to Swain, who worked free and wide open up the middle third of the secondary to make it 21-14.
It was the fifth touchdown of the first quarter.
The sixth came 18 seconds into the second.
A couple short completions, then a 41-yard Franks-to-Toney got the ball to the Blue 8-yard line, and after miss on another trick play, Franks set up in the pocket and quick-triggered a touchdown to Van Jefferson to push the Orange margin to 28-14.
C.J. McWilliams' interception of a Jones pass soon had Franks back on the field and the Blue back in the end zone to further the rout. He threw a fade up the right sideline that fell to an open Grimes, who ran through the tackle attempt by safety Brad Davis and finished a 61-yard touchdown with 11:30 left in the half.
Trask's second touchdown throw of the game was a 54-yarder that hit Swain perfectly down the middle to make it 35-21.
"We didn't make a lot of defensive calls and we held a couple of players out," Mullen said with regard to the back-and-forth nature of the game and 900-plus yards of total offense. "If you're going to put a veteran quarterback on the field and say, 'Hey, they're only going to run these four defenses' before the ball is snapped, they know what the defense is going to be, and they can pick you apart. It was good to see them do that. We kept it somewhat simple offensively, as well."
With a twist here and there.
Sheppard's pick-6, that went under Franks' box score column (albeit with an asterisk), pulled the Blue within 35-28. Temporarily. On the next snap for the Orange, Franks was flushed to his left, directed Grimes up the sideline and hit his wideout for a 64-yard catch-and-run to the Blue 1. Franks scored two plays later on a run up the middle. It was 42-28 with nearly nine minutes still to go before halftime.
A 13-play drive that reached the Blue 17 was thwarted by a Kyrie Campbell sack (the spring version kind; with no tackling the QB allowed), but third-year sophomore Chris Howard salvaged three points with a 42-yard field goal as time expired to push the Orange ahead 45-28 at the break.
After that, it was a running clock and a very fast second half with a mishmash of stuff to entertain the masses; from Doering, working the game for SEC Network, hopping from the sidelines to catch a 61-yard touchdown from walk-on QB Nick Sproles , followed by a fake PAT and pass for a two-point conversion — with no defenders on the field.
While the players celebrated, Steve Spurrier made his way onto the field, threw his visor to the turf and gave Doering a hug.
A good time was had by all. That was the goal.
"It's fun," Franks said. "I mean, we go out there as an offense and it feels good to be a part of a clean offensive set, you know. You drive the ball 80 yards and you have a clean series and stuff like that. It's always just a confidence boost going into the summer, and then eventually going into the fall."