Florida coasted to a 35-14 win over FAU in the Swamp, but it certainly wasn’t a smooth effort, particularly offensively.
The Gators did what they should have done against an outmanned Owl front seven, rolling up 400 yards of rushing and owning the LOS. What was disconcerting, though, was the struggle by Emory Jones to establish a consistent passing attack. He was inaccurate all night, ineffective in the intermediate and deep zones, and threw two terrible picks, the first killing a drive in the red zone. For some unknown reason, he looked hesitant, missing open receivers numerous times when he simply could have let the ball rip. He did fine running the ball with 74 yards. Now there will be rumblings of a QB controversy, as Anthony Richardson was devastating running the ball with 160 yards on just 7 carries, including a 73-yard breathtaking romp. He also completed the longest pass of the night for the Gators, a 32-yard throw to Ja’Markis Weston. Jones has to improve and do it immediately.
All of the Florida RBs were solid, as they had plenty of room to operate. Mailk Davis looked the best he has since 2017, before his injuries. Dameon Pierce and Nay’Quan Wright did fine in limited carries, and Demarkus Bowman showed some speed on the edge. The group that didn’t get to operate was the WR corps. No real deep passes were completed, few were attempted, and Jones did not give them many chances for YAC. This group might need to prepare itself mentally for a long year of run-blocking, as what we saw from Kyle Trask in 2019 and 2020 won’t be seen for a while. I was also disappointed that Coach Mullen chose to go for TDs on two long 4th-and-goal situations, instead of taking the sure 6 points to stretch the lead and give the new placekickers some work. The O-line looked good, but FAU’s front seven lacked size, experience, and talent – they should have run as well as they did.
Defensively, the first game showed some promise for a marked improvement by the Gators. The D-line dominated most of the night, and it was good to see 8 guys rotating throughout to keep them fresh and active. Zach Carter looked especially good both rushing the passer and defending the run. There was still some disappointing run gap integrity from the LBs that has to improve, and I’m really wondering if LB coach Christian Robinson is up to the task. The secondary wasn’t really tested, as FAU’s N’Kosi Perry was scrambling for his life much of the game. They did show some promise by covering more closely and tackling better in space, but there were still some busts that weren’t exploited because of the excellent pass rush. The only real gains made by FAU were after Florida started playing most of it’s reserves in the 4th quarter. It was a sloppy finish, but that’s not too surprising, given it was the first game and the outcome was well in hand.
It’s on to Tampa to face South Florida for another in-state matchup. The Bulls looked dreadful at NC State last week, getting castrated 45-0 and providing no resistance of any kind. That program has struggled the past 2 seasons, but they may be bottoming out in 2021, with little talent or depth at many positions. Their new coaching staff has years of work ahead of them to try and make that program competitive again.
This should be a glorified scrimmage for Florida. I don’t expect any exotic plays or formations, leaving very little on tape for Alabama prior to next week’s showdown at the Swamp. We’ll see both QBs again, and even though USF is overmatched, Jones needs to prove he’s the #1 QB. The passing game has to get cleaned up. Unfortunately, USF may be worse than FAU, so the Gators won’t get tested before playing the Tide. I don’t see much benefit from this game. As always, the most important thing other than winning the game will be (hopefully) no injuries.
Prediction: Florida 41 USF 13