The first glimpse of the 2015 Florida State Seminoles was a shaky one. Saturday's Garnet & Gold Game was a rain-soaked affair that featured lots of new faces, lots of injured contributors on the sidelines and lots of sloppy play by those on the field. The performance of many new players was solid at times, ugly at times, and mostly inconsistent. In other words, the 2015 Garnet & Gold Game was mostly par-for-the-course when it comes to spring games. In all likelihood, there was little Sean Maguire & Co. could do on Saturday to calm the collective FSU fanbase's nerves about having to replace Jameis Winston and so many key contributors to Florida State's success over the past 2 years. Those concerns won't have an opportunity to be quelled until September.
This occurrence isn't FSU-specific and certainly doesn't exist in a vacuum. All it takes is looking at Florida State's rival's spring games to recognize that fact and see that the problems at Miami and Florida seem worse -- mainly that they aren't blocking anyone.
In Gainesville, the Gators' continuing struggles with grasping yet another new offensive system -- its fourth in five years -- are obvious. The UF coaching staff appears to be leaning toward playing Will Grier at quarterback, but Treon Harris will continue to battle him for the starting job into the fall. In the spring game, Grier went 7-9 for 130 yards and Harris went 6-9 for 95 yards and a touchdown, both very small samples for each. Kelvin Taylor carried the ball 11 times for 40 yards on the ground. However, the performance on Saturday was poor and new head coach Jim McElwain said after the uninspiring spring game on Saturday that he was not pleased with the offensive performance and there remains much work to do on that side of the ball. The "offensive" highlight of the day for UF was likely an opening kickoff return by Demarcus Robinson, who seems to be Florida's only reliable receiver thus far.
The biggest concern for the Gators continues to be its totally depleted offensive line, which struggled to protect its quarterbacks from reserve and walk-on defensive linemen on Saturday. The offensive line woes in Gainesville are so bad, it had only six healthy offensive linemen playing on Saturday, and the Blue Squad had only one offensive lineman on scholarship playing. UF received terrible news last week when it learned that perhaps its best offensive lineman, Rod Johnson, suffered an 'indefinite' injury which forced him to miss Saturday's spring game. With few details given about the injury, speculation swirled that his injury could be significant, particularly after Johnson sent out these tweets following the Orange & Blue Debut Saturday.
Can't wait to see how many people turn they back— Rod Johnson #⃣5⃣5⃣ (@Almighty_rod55) April 11, 2015
I been thru hell and back I promise I ain't leaving like that Gatornation 4 life— Rod Johnson #⃣5⃣5⃣ (@Almighty_rod55) April 12, 2015
If the Gators want to improve on an atrocious offense from last season, it will first have to figure out if it has an offensive line to protect its unknown starting quarterback and create running holes for Kelvin Taylor. There is potential for multiple true freshmen offensive linemen to play significant snaps on the offensive line -- never a recipe for success.
Florida's defense should again be good, but it is hard to judge just how good considering the quality of the offense it has faced in spring.
Meanwhile, Miami played its spring game in a minor league soccer stadium in Ft. Lauderdale due to Sun Life Stadium renovations, a much more appropriately-sized venue for Miami football given its attendance woes. Miami is the most-established program of the Big 3 at the quarterback position, with Brad Kaaya firmly supplanted as the signal-caller for the Hurricanes. Even so, Kaaya struggled in Miami's spring game, going 8-17 for 63 yards and tossing 3 interceptions in the first half alone -- though two did hit off the hands of his receivers.
On the ground, life after Duke Johnson began with a thud for the Hurricanes. Joseph Yearby, Miami's heir apparent to the Duke, was suspended for the spring game for violation of team rules, and Gus Edwards played only one quarter.
These offensive struggles culminated in Miami not scoring a touchdown on its first nine possessions of the spring game. According to multiple reports, the struggles could be traced directly to Miami's offensive line, which struggled to protect or open holes in the run game, just like Florida.
Like FSU, it is difficult to determine just how much weight to put in the offensive struggles of Miami's spring game. The Hurricanes certainly have the advantage of being the only program of the Big 3 with a returning starting quarterback, but it also has the disadvantage of having the most uncertain coaching staff future of the Big 3 programs. They will need to rely on Kaaya, Yearby and Stacey Coley on offense if they want to beat FSU for the first time since Obama's first year in the White House and make their first appearance in the ACC Championship Game since joining the conference in 2004.