Game week is here for the Florida Gators, which means the beginning of the Luke Del Rio era. The quarterback position is settled for now, so the Gators can begin to answer other questions about the offense this week against Massachusetts.
In each of the past six seasons – since Tim Tebow left following the 2009 season – the biggest story line going into each season has centered on the quarterback. This season may be different because Del Rio brings stability to the program. He may not be Danny Wuerffel, but he will be a solid college quarterback. The focus should be on the other areas of the offense Saturday night in the Swamp against what should be an overmatched UMass team.
The offensive line appears to have six guys who can be counted on going into the season. Thus, depth is an issue and the second-line guys should get an opportunity to show their wares Saturday. A big key this season will be pass protection: Can this season's line reduce the number of hits on the quarterback? Florida set a school record by allowing 46 sacks last season. The much-maligned line is a year older and more experienced, and will benefit from better decision-making by the quarterback.
While the statistic is "sacks allowed," keep an eye on how many times Del Rio is hit this season. That could be as important as any statistic relating to success in the passing game. A stat of note: The Minutemen finished 116th in the nation last season in sacks, with just 15.
The stability at quarterback means more opportunities for wide receivers. Antonio Callaway will look to double his reception numbers this year (he caught 35 passes last season), but others must emerge. Keep an eye on slot receiver Dre Massey, a JC transfer who went through spring practice and has had a terrific fall camp.
Jim McElwain's offense features the tight end and DeAndre Goolsby is primed for a big season. Goolsby was part of the group that caught seven touchdown passes last season, the most by UF tight ends since 2007.
The intermediate passing game really struggled in 2015. The key is precise route running. Will this season's group improve? If senior Ahmad Fulwood is going to finally deliver a big season, it needs to start this week in the Swamp. If veterans Fullwood, Chris Thompson and C.J. Worton cannot deliver, there are plenty of freshman ready for an opportunity. UMass was 96th in the nation in pass defense last season, surrendering 254.9 yards per game.
If the offensive line improves, the running game should improve with it. The Gators feature a zone-heavy blocking scheme that requires the linemen to keep penetration out of the backfield. The running back group of Jordan Cronkrite, Mark Thompson, Jordan Scarlett, Mark Herndon and Lamical Perine appears to be as deep and talented as any in recent memory. This week's opponent will give the backs a chance to surpass 200 rushing yards (the Gators have done that just 19 times in the past five seasons, and six of those came in 2012). The Minutemen gave up almost 193 rushing yards per game last year and basically are starting over on defense.
The entire quintet should have a chance to show what they can do this week, but chances are coordinator Doug Nussmeier will shorten the rotation for Game 2, against SEC East foe Kentucky. Scarlett is the team's leading returning rusher, with 181 yards last season.
(You can follow Brady Ackerman on Twitter @bradyack)
© 2016, Brady Ackerman. All rights reserved.
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