Florida Gators Offense: Real Deal Or Fool’s Gold?

The Florida Gators offense showed up against Kentucky, but there may be a reason to question whether or not Jim McElwain’s team is for real.

Will the real Florida Gators please stand up?

A week after Jim McElwain’s team underwhelmed against a UMass team it should have buried early in the game, the Gators stepped up and annihilated Kentucky, 45-7.

Maybe it was the excitement of having Billy Donovan back on campus. It could have been a pre-game speech from Joakim Noah. Or maybe, just maybe, hosting the Florida Men’s Basketball championship squads from 2006 and 2007 had a Space Jam-type effect and transferred talent to the football team.

Fun theories, sure, but there are as many questions on the offensive side of the ball as there were going into the game against the Wildcats.

The excitement of having beaten Kentucky 30 years in a row will soon fade. And the 564 yards of total offense the Wildcats surrendered to the Gators — the most Florida has totaled in an SEC game since 2001 — will either be a jumping-off point or a random flash in the pan if the Gators struggle against North Texas.

Luke Del Rio came into this season with a question mark on his back because he had transferred twice and won the starting job without a solid body of work.

All we knew was the fact he was Jack Del Rio’s kid. But so far, he’s been a very capable starter.

Del Rio has completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 756 yards and six touchdowns to only one interception.

What’s more important, though, is the fact he and Antonio Callaway seem to be on the same page. They’ve already connected twice for touchdowns, and the true sophomore wide receiver is averaging 15.5 yards per catch.

As long as Callaway can continue to create separation, Del Rio should be able to find him. That’s especially important when offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier dials up the deep ball. Del Rio doesn’t have the biggest arm of Florida’s four quarterbacks, but he showed on Saturday he can fling it long when needed.

With 37 seconds left in the first quarter, he found Callaway for a 78-yard pitch and catch for a score. Callaway ended up with five grabs for 129 receiving yards.

Of course, the aerial attack was aided by the Gators’ four-headed monster in the backfield.

Jordan Scarlett and Mark Thompson both crossed the plane for touchdowns, and they combined with Jordan Cronkrite and Lamical Perine for 236 rushing yards on the day.

It was an all-around, balanced attack, but is it fool’s gold? After all, the Gators managed only 24 points in Week 1. Kentucky isn’t known for its defense, but it’s unreasonable to assume it has a worse defensive unit than UMass all of the sudden.

Which version of the offense will Florida fans see when McElwain leads his team to Knoxville on Sept. 24? The same question can be applied to the matchups with LSU on Oct. 8, Georgia on Oct. 29 and Florida State on Nov. 26.

Del Rio knows the playbook. He isn’t careless with the football. But he isn’t an elite talent under center.

The truth is his success as a passer depends on the success of the running game.

If Thompson can keep bullying his way through the A-gaps and B-gaps for the tough yardage, Scarlett should get more looks on the perimeter. Perine can spell them and change the pace while Cronkrite provides a receiving threat out of the backfield.

But here’s the real key, the independent variable for which all of that hinges: the offensive line.

Former Gator Max Starks was critical of the way Florida’s men up front played against UMass, but he believes they’ll improve as the season continues.

The offensive line certainly played much better in Week 2 than it did in the season opener — especially Martez Ivey at left guard, who had some uncharacteristic mistakes against the Minutemen in Week 1.

With offensive guard Antonio Riles out for the season with a torn ACL and offensive tackle Fred Johnson taking it easy with an ankle injury, the Gators will need freshman Jawaan Taylor to grow up in a hurry.

He saw time at right tackle against Kentucky and played well.

You always hear how it all starts in the trenches, and it’s true. But it’s especially accurate for Florida.

If David Sharpe holds up Del Rio’s blindside, Ivey shows he’s the mauling run blocker he’s expected to be, and Taylor matures quickly at right tackle, everything else should work itself out.

That’s not to say Florida will hang 40-plus points on LSU, Georgia or FSU. That’s highly unlikely.

However, the Gators should continue to move the ball efficiently down the field and put points on the board.

The days of punting and praying are dwindling. There is a sense of hope for the offense.

Posting 564 yards of total offense was almost unthinkable after Will Grier was suspended last season. And it’s somewhat mind-boggling to think none of Urban Meyer’s Florida teams put up a mark like that against a conference opponent.

McElwain is slowly piecing this puzzle together. As long as offensive line coach Mike Summers can get his guys to do their jobs consistently, then those other pieces will fall into place.

That picture will be a sight for very sore eyes.

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