Florida Gators have more questions than answers after spring practice | Whitley

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun

Despite what you may have heard, there were plenty of fireworks at the Orange and Blue Game. Florida just waited until the game was over to break them out.

Before then, the evening was pretty much a dud. At least if you were a fan of big plays, smooth execution and seat-gripping drama.

Well, there was a bit of that at the very end of Thursday night’s game. Trey Smack made a 46-yard field goal as time expired to give the Orange a 10-7 win.

Yep, 10-7.

Then fireworks lit the sky over Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

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The pyrotechnics seemed a bit inappropriate considering the preceding football show, but at least they probably woke up the few thousand fans who’d stuck around till the end. And considering the price of admission ($0.00), fans certainly got their money’s worth.

 I probably shouldn’t be so blasé about the whole affair. But like most football observers, I prefer high-scoring shootouts to punting exhibitions.

That doesn’t mean 10-7 games can’t be impressive. They’re just not nearly as entertaining or likely to send fans home screaming, “Bring on Utah!”

Austin Armstrong, Gators defense look promising

But if you want to feel good about the Gators as they head into summer, the defense seems to be finding a clue after two years of hopelessly wandering in the wilderness.

“The new D.C. really showed that they’re a legit defense,” quarterback Jack Miller III said.

That would be defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong, the 29-year-old who was hired right before spring practice began. His aggressive approach produced nine sacks and 14 tackles for loss.

Which leads to the question fans have been asking since the first intrasquad spring game in 3309 B.C. (I’m not certain on the date, but I’m pretty sure Caveman U. scored more than 17 total points):

What can we really glean from an intrasquad game in which the playbook is dumbed down?

It’s safe to say the defense looks more promising than recent editions, thanks in no small part to newcomers such as Jaden Robinson, Cam’Ron Jackson, Deuce Spurlock II and Mannie Nunnery.

As for the offense, all eyes this spring have been on the quarterback battle between Miller and Graham Mertz. Not much was settled Thursday night.

They had decent moments, but neither looked like the kind of quarterback who’ll make fans forget about Anthony Richardson when he was humming.

“Both guys did some good things,” Billy Napier said. “And I think there are going to be a lot of things that each guy can learn from.”

Key injuries made it tough to gauge UF offensive line

If Thursday night’s offensive line play was any indication, the QBs better learn how to run for their lives. But it might not have been a true indication, since center Kingsley Eguakun was out with an injury and Baylor transfer Micah Mazzccua missed most of spring practice with a shoulder injury.

Maybe the offensive line will work out its issues before the season opener at Utah. But for now, the strength of last year’s team has far more questions than answers.

When the QBs had time to throw, Ricky Pearsall looked good catching it. Nothing new there. What was new was redshirt sophomore Marcus Burke looking like a solid receiving option. He caught a 16-yard TD pass from Miller and provided one of the few offensive highlights with a 39-yard circus catch.

The one position fans can feel comfortable about is running back. Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne are established studs and looked good as ever. Freshman Treyaun Webb rushed for 57 yards, while Tulane transfer Cam Carroll wowed the crowd when he hurdled a defender on a 12-yard gain.

“I think that’s probably the takeaway for me as I go home and sleep, is a lot of new players making a significant impact,” Napier said.

His rebuild is in full swing, with 27 new scholarship players on the roster. Expect a few more when the portal window opens May 1.

Based on Thursday night, a few more newcomers capable of making significant impacts would come in handy.

“This is a little bit of a halfway point,” Napier said. “It’s kind of like the midterm exam to some degree.”

Fans should give them an “I” for Incomplete. And hope the spring game wasn’t a preview of the fall.

The Gators won’t need to put on a fireworks spectacular to succeed, but they’ll sure have to show a lot more pop.

David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley