Saturday January 3rd, 2015

Florida closed the book on another disappointing season on Saturday with a 28-20 victory over East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl. This game presented a textbook, strength-on-strength matchup: Florida’s stout defense against East Carolina’s high-octane offense. Here are three quick takeaways:

ECU’s passing attack is dangerous, but Florida did a good job containing it

The Pirates boast one of the most dangerous passing attacks in the nation – as of Saturday, they ranked third nationally with 367.3 yards through the air per game – but they had yet to face a pass defense as talented as Florida’s this season. Cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Tabor and the rest of the Gators’ secondary presented a tough matchup for East Carolina senior quarterback Shane Carden and receivers Justin Hardy and Cam Worthy.

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The Pirates were not fazed. Carden connected 11 times with Hardy for 160 yards and a touchdown, eight times with Worthy for 130 yards and a score and finished with 427 total passing yards on a season-high 66 attempts. When Carden and his receivers are in rhythm, ECU is tough to stop. On Saturday, a combination of misplaced throws and drops held the Pirates back. In the end, the Gators picked off Carden twice and did enough on the other side of the ball to pull out the win.

Florida is an unbalanced team, in case you didn’t already know

Florida overcame a subpar offensive performance, a recurring theme throughout this season. The Gators ranked 12th in the SEC in passing efficiency, ninth in rushing yards per play and 81st in Football Outsiders’ S&P+ Ratings. (S&P+ is an advanced ranking system that uses play-by-play and drive data to measure a team’s overall efficiency.)​ The struggles continued on Saturday, as the Gators were outgained by 196 yards. At one point in the second half, Florida went three-and-out on four consecutive drives. 

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Quarterback Treon Harris left the game in the third quarter with an injury, but he completed only five of 11 passes during his time on the field. One of the only bright spots was redshirt freshman tailback Adam Lane Jr., who rushed for a career-high 109 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown. Florida also delivered a big play – an 86-yard touchdown pass to Ahmad Fullwood – for its only points of the second half.

Fortunately for the Gators, their defense helped overcome their offensive woes (particularly in the second half) by pressuring Carden. Junior defensive lineman and first-round draft prospect Dante Fowler Jr. recorded three sacks.

The defense’s relatively strong showing won’t ease concerns about the offense heading into next season, however. Jim McElwain and his staff have their work cut out for them.

This game didn’t mean that much for Florida

For Florida, it’s hard to take too much away from a game that doubled as a placeholder before the installation of a new coaching staff. It hasn’t even been two months since Florida announced Will Muschamp was “stepping down.” In the meantime, the Gators hired McElwain, as well as new offensive and defensive coordinators. But McElwain didn’t coach this game. That duty fell to former defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin.

While it’s true that returning players wanted to make a good impression on McElwain – and those turning pro wanted to impress NFL scouts – this game probably doesn’t bear any significance for how the team will perform next season. With McElwain taking over, the Gators are turning the page in 2015.

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