The Gators clinched the victory when ECU quarterback Blake Kemp fumbled the ball deep in the red zone late in the fourth quarter. On a day where the SEC had a number of embarrassingly close calls, the Gators were able to hold on for the narrow victory over a quality opponent.
Here are the three takeaways from the Florida victory over East Carolina on Saturday night.
1. Penalties nearly killed Florida
Under former head coach Will Muschamp, the Gators were consistently one of the most penalized teams in the nation. New coach Jim McElwain has been trying to get Florida to play smarter and not give yards away. After watching Saturday night’s game, McElwain still has a lot of work to do.
Florida ended the night with 12 penalties for 105 yards a week after being flagged with just one penalty against New Mexico State.
“It’s not how it’s going to be around here anymore,” McElwain said. “We got to learn it. It’s not the brand of football we’re going to play.”
The biggest flag of the night came when Gators running back Kelvin Taylor scored a seven-yard touchdown that gave the team a 14-point lead with 6:57 left. Taylor gave a throat slash after the score and was called for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Florida then had to kick off from the 20-yard-line and ECU eventually scored a touchdown on that drive. The Gators barely defeated a quality Pirates team, and the penalties did not help. Florida will have to clean up their negative plays if they want to defeat an improved Kentucky Wildcats Saturday.
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2. Gators missed Vernon Hargraves III
Prior to Saturday’s kickoff against the Pirates, Florida announced that it would be without its best player, Vernon Hargraves III, due to a leg injury. While the Gators have a talented secondary, the team missed the All-American corner.
ECU was able to throw for 346 yards, and quarterback Kemp threw three touchdown passes.
Early in the game, the Pirates picked on Hargraves' replacement, Quincy Wilson, early and often. ECU's early success on Wilson led to the Pirates' first touchdown of the game to Davon Grayson.
3. Grier should be the starting quarterback
While Treon Harris did play against ECU, the offense ran more smoothly under redshirt freshman Will Grier. The Davidson N.C. native was 10-of-17 for 151 yards and two touchdowns against the Pirates. Harris closed the game out as he finished 5-of-8 for 54 yards and led the Gators on their last touchdown drive.
Maybe coach McElwain continues to play both Harris and Grier, but it seems Grier was the more effective passer.
As Florida will begin SEC play next week at Kentucky, it will be hard to keep with the two-quarterback system. Grier appears to be the guy that will get the start in Lexington, but we will see what McElwain decides next week.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.