Florida football: 5 takeaways from the Orange and Blue spring game

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun

The Florida Orange and Blue game ended with a kick, with Trey Smack connecting on a 46-yard field goal with one second left to lift the Orange Team to a 10-7 win over the Blue Team before 42,000 on Thursday night at The Swamp.

It ended as the lowest-scoring spring game in Florida history. The game wrapped up 15 days of spring practices.

"Not as clean as you would like today, but I think the defense probably had a lot to do with that," Florida coach Billy Napier said. "But overall, really proud of this group. It's been a very productive offseason."

Napier said the game would have gone to overtime had Smack missed the kick.

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"Our guys are competitors," Napier said. "They wouldn't have wanted to see this game end tied."

Here are five takeaways from the game:

No separation in QB competition

Quarterbacks Jack Miller and Graham Mertz both had some positive moments while missing other throws.

Miller led the Blue Team to the first touchdown of the game, directing the second-team offense on a 12-play, 82-yard drive, capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marcus Burke.

"This year I felt a lot more prepared for it. I felt a lot more comfortable out there," Miller said. "I feel like I played a little bit better than I did last year. Still not as good as I would have liked, but definitely seeing improvement."

Mertz got off to a slow start — he was sacked twice on a three-and-out in his first series — and passed for just 7 yards in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Mertz heated up, passing for 136 yards and a TD. He found wide receiver Ricky Pearsall downfield for a 41-yard completion late in the second quarter and connected with wide receiver Kahleil Jackson to tie the score at 7-7.

Florida Gators quarterback Jack Miller III (10) scrambles during the first half of the University of Florida Orange & Blue game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Thursday, April 13, 2023. [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

Mertz also had a red-zone drive stall earlier in the second quarter with back-to-back incompletions at the 6-yard line. The drive ended when Smack missed a 24-yard field goal attempt that hit the left upright.

"I'm definitely not satisfied with it," Mertz said of his performance. "We did do some good things. I think that skill players made a lot of plays. Ricky right before halftime made a great catch on the sideline."

Mertz finished 18-for-29 for 244 yards and a TD. Miller was 10-for-20 for 144 yards and a TD. Mertz worked with the first-team offense in the first half, while Miller worked with the first-team offense in the second half.

"Both guys did some good things, and I think there was going to be a lot of things that each guy can learn from," Napier said.

Max Brown, the third scholarship quarterback on Florida's roster, went 1 of 4 for 13 yards. Napier said following the game the Gators will be in the market for a fourth scholarship quarterback in the transfer portal, which opens Sunday.

"That process is underway to some degree," Napier said. "I think we'll know more pretty soon. That's what I would say in that regard. Yes, we anticipate adding a player to our team at that position."

An up-and-down day for Florida's wide receivers

Pearsall led all of Florida's wide receivers with four catches for 62 yards. Burke also had a strong night with two catches for 55 yards and a TD, including an acrobatic 39-yard catch along the sideline.

Florida Gators wide receiver Ricky Pearsall (1) is brought down by the defense during the first half of Thursday's Orange & Blue game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville.

But Xzavier Henderson and true freshman Aidan Mizell each had two drops. Sophomore receiver Caleb Douglas had two catches for 51 yards, including a nice 28-yard catch and run, but lost the ball on a fumble in the red zone at the end of the play.

Some early enrollees flash

Several freshman early enrollees took the field and some stood out.

Edge rusher T.J. Searcy had a big night on defense with six tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and one fumble recovery. Linebacker Jaden Robinson, a former Columbia High standout from Lake City, had seven tackles and one sack.

Freshman running back Treyaun Webb had a game-high 53 yards on 11 carries, while freshman receiver Andy Jean had two catches for 28 yards and two kickoff returns for 58 yards.

Some offensive line issues with protection, shotgun snaps

With starting center Kingsley Eguakun out due to an injury, Jake Slaughter started at center for the Orange team, while freshman early enrollee Rod Kearney started for the Blue team. It was a rough night for Kearney, who had three botched snaps, including one that was recovered for a fumble.

Florida's two offensive lines also combined to surrender seven sacks. Damieon George was solid as a starter at right tackle, while second-team right tackle Kiyaunta Goodwin was beaten on a sack. True freshman Knijeah Harris started at left guard and was solid throughout the game.

"We gave up pressures tonight," Napier said. "There's no doubt. The quarterback pressure, sacks, without question. I think some of that, the defense is contributing to that.

"You have new combinations of players as a result of a couple of guys being out. Overall, all very correctable. Just having stood out there behind it, I can tell you what happened.

"Some just flat-out individual matchups, defensive players winning, and some things from a schematic standpoint we can do to help the players."

A good night for the defense

Florida didn't show much on defense in the way of schemes under new defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong but still managed to make plays, finishing with eight sacks and two fumble recoveries.

"Coach Armstrong, he understands how to play us to our ability," said defensive lineman Tyreak Sapp, who finished with three tackles and one sack. "He helps us make plays and he puts us in position, but then he lets us be ourselves."

Safety Kamari Wilson forced a fumble in the first half on a catch and run by receiver Caleb Douglas, which was recovered by linebacker Shemar James.

Linebacker Scooby Williams had two tackles for loss.

Some new faces on defense stood out as well. Louisville transfer Caleb Banks had a sack, while fellow defensive lineman and Memphis transfer Cam'Ron Jackson had a pass breakup. Linebacker Mannie Nunnery, a Houston transfer, also made plays throughout the night with five tackles, two tackles for a loss and one pass breakup. Michigan transfer Duece Spurlock II had a team-high eight tackles.

"The defense did a good job tonight playing," Miller said. "I think they showed tonight — the new DC really showed that they're a legit defense. We see it every day in practice, so we weren't really too surprised."