Florida dispatched South Carolina with a workmanlike 38-24 victory in the home opener at the Swamp. This one was somewhat ugly early and late, but the Gator offense was so dominant in it’s limited 23 minutes of possession the outcome was never in serious doubt.
Florida’s defense gave up another touchdown on the opponent’s opening drive, allowing the Lamecocks to march right down the field both running and passing. Despite Carolina lacking any real playmakers other than WR Shi Smith, they did as they pleased early on. Fortunately, the Gators responded immediately with TDs on their first 2 drives to take the lead, a run by Dameon Pierce and reception by Kyle PItts. With a chance to put Carolina in a deep hole in the 2nd quarter, Kyle Trask made an uncharacteristic error, keeping the ball on a read option and fumbling, which gave the Lamecocks life and allowed them to tie the game at 14. Again, the Gators then flipped the offensive switch and scored the next 24 points going into the mid-3rd quarter to effectively end the game. Pitts, Kedarius Toney, and Trent Whittemore all had TD receptions as the offense got on a roll. Then the entire team seemed to lose focus and momentum, and Carolina went on to dominate time of possession and scored the last 14 points – and it really should have been 21 except for a poorly thrown pass on 4th down with just under a minute left. DC Todd Grantham played a soft, conservative defense which allowed the Lamecocks to move the ball, but run out almost all of the remaining clock on their last drive.
The Gator defense did improve – it went from horrific to just bad. The D-line was gashed most of the afternoon by Carolina’s running game, and once again could not get off the field on 3rd and 4th down in the 4th quarter. The secondary played a little more aggressively, but the LBs again struggled in the intermediate zone. This is disappointing, as this was supposed to be a point of emphasis and improvement from last season, but appears to be more of the same. Shawn Davis certainly helped in his return to safety, but there are still way too many missed tackles at all 3 levels along with guys simply not getting lined up in time to get into proper position. This is high school stuff that has to stop. They allowed Carolina 37 minutes time of possession, which kept Florida’s high-powered offense sidelined far too long.
Overall, a decent performance by the Florida offense and a far from impressive finish by the defense. Dan Mullen stated that his play-calling contributed to the loss of momentum and aggressiveness, and I agree. Fortunately, Carolina is led by Won’t MIsschump, who seemed to not care that his own offense essentially iced the game by showing a lack of urgency over the last 8 minutes. Just another in a long list of examples of why I’m so glad that clown is gone from the Florida sideline and is someone else’s problem.
It’s on to College Station to face Texas A&M, which is coming off of a big loss, getting hammered at Alabama 52-24 and not looking very good on either side of the ball in doing so. This, coming off of a lackluster 17-12 opening game win at home against an outmanned Vanderbilt squad, has the A&M faithful really worried about their season going off the rails early.
The Aggies lost some of their best playmakers on offense, including their best 2 WRs, who opted out of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They have 4-year starting QB Kellen Mond leading the attack, and he is still a threat both running and throwing. However, he seems to have plateaued the past 2 years, showing little improvement. He does have a decent O-line in front of him, and his favorite target is TE Jalen Wydermyer – who will be a tough matchup for the Gator LBs as they continue to struggle in coverage. Surprisingly, their running attack has been only average so far, despite having 2 good RBs in Isiah Spiller and Ainias Smith. Smith is also a capable receiver out of the backfield who is very quick and will have to be accounted for.
We are going to see now whether Grantham been playing it vanilla so far and holding back some things for this game. Or has everyone figured out he’s pretty much a one-trick pony and his defenses struggle if they can’t pressure the QB and subsequently allows his soft secondary coverage to be exposed? Brad Stewart returns from suspension to shore up the safety position, but the continued loss of Kyree Campbell at the DT spot highlights an underwhelming rotation that has been gashed by the running game so far. The front seven will face it’s sternest test of the season to date, and somehow has to find ways to not allow long, time-consuming drives that keep the Gator offense on the sideline.
I do expect the Gator offense to continue to have success, especially throwing the ball against a depleted Aggie secondary that has suffered losses due to players opting out. They were torched by Bama on deep throws that entire game, but the deep throw is not Trask’s strong suit. I hope the running game has more success than it did against South Carolina, but Texas A&M does have a stout front seven that will be by far the best Florida has faced this season. The O-line struggled some against Carolina protecting Trask, and has to tighten some things up. The running game took a step back, and has to provide more balance this week. Trevon Grimes and Jacob Copeland need to step up and take advantage of the easier coverage they receive while defenses focus on Pitts and Toney.
Will this be another case of the offense having to continue to outscore the opponent for 60 minutes? No offense can continuously do that, and eventually it will bite the Gators unless the defense starts to step up at least occasionally. I predicted a loss in this game, and despite the fact that the Aggies have not looked good at all in 2 games, there is too much talent there to see them stink it up for an entire season. They have the weapons on offense in Monds’ running ability, a big TE, and a quick RB who catches the ball well in the intermediate zones – all areas that the Gator defense has yet to prove it can contain. I just have a bad feeling that the cumulative effect of all of these matchups, along with a desperate group of Aggies who don’t want their season to unravel so soon, could cause Florida to stumble in this one.
Prediction: Texas A&M 31 Florida 28