The preseason Amway Coaches Poll is out. USA TODAY’s Paul Myerberg breaks down the biggest college football story lines from the top 25.
ORLANDO — College football is back. No. 8 Florida beat Miami 24-20 at the Camping World Kickoff in Orlando to christen the 2019 season. It wasn’t a game destined for a time capsule. Here are three observations from the Gators’ win:
1. Florida survives (but looks terrible in the process). Every win is meaningful during the regular season, especially those against in-state rivals. In that sense, Florida can exhale and embrace the two-week break until it returns to the field on Sept. 7 against Tennessee-Martin. Not that the Gators looked the part of the No. 8 team in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll — in fact, the Gators more resembled a team that belongs in the back end of the Top 25, if ranked at all.
The offense was putrid, bailed out twice by special-teams coups: one on the game’s first series, when a converted fake punt preceded a 66-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Kadarius Toney, and a second after Miami fumbled a punt return and gave the Florida offense a short field to take a 17-13 lead late in the third quarter. Otherwise it was a disaster, with mental miscues and physical errors joining surprisingly ineffective play from quarterback Feleipe Franks, who was billed this offseason as a rising star in the SEC. Not yet.
The basic takeaway: Florida needed every ounce of energy to fend off a Miami team not even pegged to win its own division in the ACC. That’s not a good look.
2. Ugly but unsurprising sloppiness from the Hurricanes. A first-time head coach. A redshirt freshman quarterback. A young offensive line. The ingredients heading into the opener suggested Miami would struggle against Florida, and the Hurricanes largely obliged. That’s not necessarily true on defense, which gave Franks and the Gators fits and wasn’t helped at all by its friends on special teams, but the offense struggled with false starts and delay of games penalties behind first-year quarterback Jarren Williams.
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Those mistakes should be expected. By and large, the offense overcame some self-inflicted wounds and found room to operate against Florida’s defense until being pinned in a corner on the Hurricanes’ final drive, with Williams doing his best to avoid any critical turnovers while new offensive coordinator Dan Enos tailored his scheme to take advantage of the Hurricanes’ skill talent. There’s obvious room for growth along with some cause for optimism on this side of the ball. But the Hurricanes won’t be a factor beyond the Coastal Division if they don’t address this sloppy play.
3. Positive first-half returns for young Miami QB. You can see why Diaz went with Williams after an offseason-long quarterback competition. As recently as the first days of fall camp, it would’ve been surprising if Diaz hadn’t picked one of his two sophomores – N’Kosi Perry, the primary backup, and Tate Martell, the Ohio State transfer who lined up at wide receiver on Saturday night. In the first half, at least, Williams looked up to the challenge of making his first career start even as the Hurricanes’ youthful and inexperienced offensive line battled with predictable issues.
After going 12-of-14 for 158 yards and a touchdown in the first half, Williams completed just one pass in the third quarter before reestablishing himself on Miami’s final drive. Given the Hurricanes’ struggles up front and Florida’s constant pressure, Enos wisely asked Williams to deliver short, timing routes rather than push the ball downfield. In that role, Williams is a good fit. He’ll have his down moments across his first year as the starter, but the redshirt freshman flashed potential.