DJ Lagway just made the summer in Gainesville a little more interesting.

The backup quarterback is always the most popular player on a football team. Especially when the backup is a 5-star freshman who hasn’t put a foot wrong and the football team is coming off a losing season. Many will be calling to see Lagway right away. Whether Billy Napier and Co. acquiesce to those calls remains to be seen.

Lagway was the only quarterback to see the field for the Orange team through the first three quarters in Florida’s annual Orange and Blue Game. He hit 12 of his 21 passes for 173 yards and a pair of touchdown strikes with 1 interception when all was said and done.

The interception wasn’t the only throw Lagway put in danger, it was just the only time he was burned by it.

That turnover came midway through the third quarter when, faced with a third-and-16, Lagway tried to force a pass to his left as he climbed in a crowded pocket. Mannie Nunnery jumped in front of the ball and ended a 7-play drive just outside of scoring position.

You expect to see a young player make throws like that. They trust their arm because they were able to win with their talent no matter the coverage at the high school level. You learn and you grow. If Florida were to roll with Lagway throughout the upcoming season, there would undoubtedly be more of those kinds of giveaways.

You just don’t expect to see the same kinds of throws from a veteran like Graham Mertz, who was picked off on the very next drive when he threw into tight coverage and missed his spot.

Mertz played the full game, attempting 27 passes. He completed 15 of them for 243 yards with 1 touchdown and the aforementioned pick.

Lagway had 5 completions of at least 20 yards. Mertz had 3, though he had a 60-yard touchdown to Tre Wilson III and a 50-yarder to Kahleil Jackson.

Of course, the key here is to temper any takeaways for either quarterback. Florida’s secondary was suspect a year ago and it looked suspect again. Wilson’s touchdown catch was an uncontested post route down the middle of the field. The rush was a base package and Wilson still managed to run free through the middle to scamper for a score.

Receivers were running open in behind defensive backs regularly. Between Mertz and Lagway, the quarterbacks combined for an average of 8.7 yards per pass attempt. Florida’s 119th-ranked pass defense gave up 8.3 yards a pass last season.

If Napier is to move off the hot seat, that’s as vital an area as any to address.

But Lagway also flashed his promise. His legs helped him escape a couple of times. He had a handful of layered throws that were put where they needed to be put. An incompletion intended for Aidan Mizell on the Orange team’s second-to-last drive was one of his most impressive throws of the day. (Mizell had a foot out when he caught it.)

His first touchdown came on a 22-yarder to Mizell in the first quarter.

The talent is obvious. We’re talking about a consensus 5-star recruit here. But, the smart money is on Lagway to enter the season as Florida’s backup. Mertz has years of experience to call on. The ceiling isn’t as high, but the variance might also not be quite as wide. Remeber, Mertz hit 73% of his throws and had just a 0.8% interception rate last fall.

Related: Want to bet on the Gators this upcoming season? FanDuel has futures posted for Florida and every other SEC school. The Florida win total is currently set at 5.5, with +156 odds on the over. 

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During the SEC Network+ broadcast, Danny Wuerffel provided some commentary on the quarterback situation at Florida. Experience in the system, Wuerffel said, is a major advantage for Mertz. In that thinking, it’s probably safe to consider him an extension of the coaching staff.

“In any system, it’s a big deal,” Wuerffel said. “However, I would say it’s even bigger here. This offense, to me, is very sophisticated for a quarterback to run. There are so many checks and alignments and all these different things, so I think it really takes a bit before all that becomes second nature. You don’t want to be thinking about shifts and motions when you’re gonna be playing quarterback.”

But that aspect of the position isn’t for fans to consider. They want to see an exciting offense. They want to see a dynamic attack. And they want to see the new guy who has done nothing but tease his potential.

To that end, the conversation surrounding Florida’s quarterback spot will be something to watch as the summer months come and go.

Other notes and tidbits from the scrimmage

>> The sequence of events leading up to Lagway’s interception in the third quarter was a mess from a play-calling standpoint. Florida tried to run a reverse flea flicker that was promptly snuffed out by the defense and resulted in a 12-yard loss on first down. The second-down play — a designed draw for Lagway — was blown dead because of a false start. Second-and-27 two plays after a 20-yard gain to move into plus territory is a back-breaking swing in a real game.

>> Florida’s backfield took a hit when Trevor Etienne decided to skip town, but the room looks like it’ll be fine going forward. Montrell Johnson Jr., last year’s leading rusher, is a fine No. 1 option. Freshman Jordan Baugh looks capable of producing right away. He showed some shiftiness and ran for 77 yards on 12 carries. Ja’Keem Jackson had 5 carries for 60 yards for the Blue team.

>> Florida shanked a punt out of bounds late in a situational moment. The Orange team kicker missed all 3 of his field goal attempts, including a 34-yarder. A PAT in the opening seconds of the second quarter featured only 10 players lined up on the defensive side of the ball. The walk-off field goal that won the game for the Blue team had a blocker running onto the field late. From an operational standpoint, it was a little sloppy on special teams. The positive was Trey Smack, who made all 4 of his kicks, though all of them were within 40 yards. Florida needs him to stay healthy or it’ll be in trouble.

>> Tre Wilson can be a major weapon for the Gators. He was a bright spot as a freshman last season, and if Saturday’s spring showcase was any indication, he’ll be a focal point in 2024. Wilson finished with 8 catches for 128 yards and a touchdown. He had 6 catches at halftime — 2 of which came on third downs.

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