- Jeff Barlis, College Football
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A typical spring football game in the South is like throwing red meat to hungry animals. For the Gators and their football-starved fans, Saturday's scrimmage went down easy.
Positive feelings were in abundance inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, as Florida's Team Orange finished in a 23-23 tie with Team Blue. The crowd was estimated at 35,834, and you'd be hard pressed to find any fans who weren't there to glimpse a brand-new offense.
"I'm extremely pleased with the day offensively with 15 practices and how far we've come," head coach Will Muschamp said. "I think you can attribute all that to [new coordinator] Kurt Roper and the offensive staff and the job they've done.
"Our kids have been very receptive and have confidence in what we're doing. I think it's a good fit moving forward."
It was a sharp contrast to the way Florida ended its 2013 season with a seven-game losing streak and a 4-8 record, the program's first losing season in 34 years.
Saturday's spring game was successful in many ways. The Gators pleased their fans with a no-huddle offense that was both efficient and coherent. They avoided the injury bug that plagued the team last year. Even the kickers looked good, as sophomore Austin Hardin connected on all four of his field goal attempts.
"It was a great day and great crowd," Muschamp said. "Probably the best crowd we’ve had since I’ve been here. It says a lot about our fanbase and the loyal support we have from all the Gators fans out there."
It was a game tailor made to check off the list of priorities set by Muschamp at the start of spring practice 24 days ago.
By halftime, Florida's first-team and second-team offenses combined for 69 plays, more than 400 yards of total offense and 36 points, which is more than the Gators scored in any game last season.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel, who missed most of 2013 with a broken leg, showed that he's healthy and has the best grasp of the offense among UF's quarterbacks. He completed 18 of 32 passes for 167 yards with a touchdown.
The word Driskel used to describe the Gators this spring was "re-energized."
"We did have a great spring," he said. "We felt like it's a new start, and there's something about [the offense] where you can get rolling. ...
"When you start getting completion after completion, it kind of builds your confidence and gets you in a rhythm that sometimes is tough for the defense to break."
Twenty receivers caught passes, including eight on Driskel's Team Blue, which was largely comprised of starters.
"That's going to help us out a lot," said sophomore Chris Thompson, who had three catches. "It’s going to keep our receivers fresh, and we're going to be keep making plays throughout the whole game."
Confidence on offense was one of Muschamp's top priorities. It was everywhere on Saturday.
"It felt like we were really efficient," Driskel said. "We moved the ball really well. We only turned it over one time and we only had one penalty on offense. I think when you’re not beating yourself up, you can really, really gain momentum and gain confidence."
There were several big plays, most notably Driskel's 31-yard touchdown pass in which sophomore receiver Demarcus Robinson made several defenders miss with his speed and cut-back ability.
Open receivers and highlight-reel plays were in short supply in 2013. And while spring games are designed to generate optimism, it was still a welcome change for Gators fans.
The biggest contrast between this spring and last year? No major injuries. When that was pointed out to Muschamp, he heaved a great sigh of relief.
"We've still got to get them out of the locker room," he said with a laugh.
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