Image credit: GatorsFB/Twitter
The whistles will sound publicly for the first time under new head coach Billy Napier when the Florida Gators take to the field Thursday night for the 2022 Orange & Blue game. The spring football extravaganza takes on a different aspect this season, as Florida not only moved it out of the weekend, but also into prime time. The hope being that the Gators will get more attention from rookies, more hype from fans, and more press for the program as a whole.
Still, Florida enters this spring game with what Napier has always described as a thin roster. While the Gators have a first team on both sides of the ball, Napier isn’t too keen on depth beyond that and plans to hit the transfer gate heavy before summer camp. Additionally, the plan calls for at least five extras to receive scholarships before the season.
This brings us to the Orange & Blue Debut, which will serve not only as the spring game but also as a major recruiting event for Florida. With so much changing throughout the program over the past few months, let’s take a look at what to expect on Thursday night.
Date: Thursday April 14 | Weather: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, Florida
|Key personnel||Stapleton, Peagler, Toney, Peterson||Sale, Colbert, Juluke, Raymond, Spencer|
|Key players||RB Bowman, LB Burney, LB Cox, S Dean, DL Dexter, CB Hill, S Johnson, CB Marshall, QB Miller, LB Miller, S Torrence, TE Zipperer||LB Black, LB Borders, CB Helm, WR Henderson, DL Humphries, RB Lingard, LB Reese, QB Richardson, WR Shorter, WR Whittemore, S Wilcoxson, LB Wingo|
|Captain||Kelly Rae Finley||Todd Golden|
The orange and blue teams trained separately during the last week of spring camp; however, a handful of players will suit up for both teams amid depth issues on both sides of the ball.
There will be four quarters and a 15-minute half. The clock will run until the last 4 minutes of each half with stops only for scoring, penalties and turnovers.
There will be an honorary Mr. Two Bits to open the spring game, and “I Won’t Back Down” will play along with other traditional songs and chants throughout the game.
What to watch
Quarterback game: While signal callers are still learning Napier’s system and redshirt rookie Jack Miller III is still getting used to the program itself, the Gators still have a long way to go getting the ball rolling. Technically, every position is up for grabs before the season, but second Anthony Richardson is clearly expected to get the starting job. The key for him? To be able to make all the throws while staying in the pocket given that he is still limited following his off-season knee surgery. Seeing him take a step forward in his ability to read his progressions will be important. Richardson will work with almost the entire first team which will obviously give him a significant advantage even if he comes up against the majority of the first team defence. (It will also be interesting to see the order in which reserve quarterbacks are played.)
Back-to-back battle on the march: Between the two players who didn’t see much time on the court a year ago and one of the program’s best offseason transfers, there will be a few new Gators on the rock Thursday night. Given that Napier will feature a heavyweight offense – especially in this transitional season – it will be important to see who impresses with the ball in their hands. Redshirt junior Lorenzo Lingard and second Demarkcus Bowman are both former five-star prospects who will receive a ton of runs, while Louisiana second Montrell Johnson should adapt to both teams.
Defensive unknowns: While Florida still had a successful offense under the last regime, its defense fell off a cliff. New defensive coordinator Patrick Toney has a lot of work to do not only to get new starters on the field, but also to make sure everyone is playing at their level. The defense is always hard to judge in a spring game given that contact is intentionally limited, but considering this will be the first time Toney’s unit will be in the public eye, it will be interesting to see who s line up as starters and how the overall scheme comes together.
Fan participation: A Thursday night in Gainesville is never passed inside The Swamp, especially not in April and especially not by students or outside fans. Given the concerns over fan buy-in over the past few seasons, it will be interesting to see if Napier and his marketing team have rallied the university and its supporters to attend this showcase event. The team certainly needs an active crowd, but the Gators are also trying to impress some of the nation’s top prospects with a party atmosphere. Whether Florida is ultimately able to deliver that remains to be seen, but a strong look Thursday night could bode well for the rest of the offseason in the 2022 campaign from a support standpoint.