Las Vegas Bowl Preview

Florida gets “rewarded” for it’s second straight 6-6 regular season with a trip to Las Vegas to take on the Oregon St. Beavers.  Obviously, this game has no meaning nationally outside of the two fan bases, and the Gator coaching staff is going to have it’s hands full trying to balance the past critical recruiting weekends, bowl game prep, and figuring out how to field a competitive team.

Since the end of the regular season, Florida has lost 29 players to a combination of the transfer portal, graduation, and dismissal from the program (QB Jalen Kitna, who was slated to start the bowl game and had the opportunity to audition for 2023).  There are some key losses – especially on offense – that could gut any real chance at the Gators winning.  QB Anthony Richardson, OG O’Cyrus Torrence, and WR Justin Shorter are gone, along with MLB Ventrell Miller.  For now, it appears as if DT Gervon Dexter and OT Richard Gouriage intend to play even though both have declared for the NFL Draft, and I’m sure Billy Napier and Gator Nation will gladly accept any scraps they can get at this point.

Jack Miller has been named the starter at QB for Florida.  he was the backup to AR and played in the Orange and Blue game, but suffered a broken thumb in fall practice and didn’t play a single snap all season.  He’s going to have a lot to prove, and having the defections on offense just makes his job that much more difficult.  If Gouriage does play, the only O-line change will be Richie Leonard filing in for Torrense at guard – at least he’s had extended reps during the season.  The running game will have to leaned upon heavily as Miller has precious little experience with the starting WRs, let alone not being able to develop timing with them.  Other than Shorter, most of the WR corps appears to be back and in decent health.  OSU’s strength on defense is against the run, allowing only 114 yards/game.  If the Gators can’t establish an effective running game, it could be a long afternoon for Miller and the offense.  Florida can have success throwing the ball, as OSU has allowed 228 yards per game.  Having almost all of the WRs back is a huge boost.  Miller needs to protect the football as well, as the Beavers have 12 interceptions on the year.  Of course, unless the Gators put together a decent running game, Miller won’t have the luxury of a balanced offense and will be forced into obvious passing situations.  He does have some mobility, but with the only backups being walk-on Kyle Engel and true freshman Max Brown, Miller needs to stay healthy, so I don’t expect a lot of running from him unless something is wide open.  It’s hard to believe that Florida comes into this game with no QB having ever having thrown a pass for the Gators.

OSU’s offense also relies on a strong running game, led by true freshman Damien Martinez with 970 yards.  The Beaver passing game is ball-possession, with neither of their QBs – Ben Gulbranson or Chance Nolan – throwing deep very often.  They are also turnover-prone when forced to throw with 15 TDs offset by 13 interceptions, so it’s obvious what the Gator defense has to do – find a way to win first down and then rush the QB and force some mistakes.  OSU does have one legitimate deep threat in WR Anthony Gould, who averages 17 yards per catch and is also one of the most dangerous punt returners in the country with an 18 yard average and 2 TDs.

Florida’s special teams have been impacted by all of the roster attrition.  Many of the backups that have left the program received extended snaps on the kick return and coverage units, so there will be lots of new faces and inexperience, which can be disastrous… especially with a kick returner like Gould on OSU’s side.  Fortunately, both placekicker Adam Mihalek and punter Jeremy Crawshaw are available.  Mihalek did pretty well in his first year, and Crawshaw was one of the best in the SEC and country.  Given the potential struggles ahead for Florida’s offense, field position and not allowing any big plays by OSU is critical to chances for a win.

The psychology behind this game will be fascinating.  OSU will be looking at this game as a huge opportunity, and you can bet they will be focused and ready to play.  Florida, however, may be looking at this as more of a scrimmage, with many of the players still on the roster looking to audition for their place in 2023.  I can’t imagine more than 10K Gator fans attending this game (probably less), as it has no real juice and is against an unfamiliar opponent.  It’s also an expensive trip across the country right now, with high air fare prices and inflation impacting the budget of many.  Maybe the staff can have the team ready to play and the Gators come out with some fire, but I would not be surprised at all if it becomes a struggle.  I have no high expectations for a win – it would be great for the team’s morale, but something tells me there is already a significant amount of attention on 2023, from both the players and coaching staff.

Prediction: Oregon St. 24 Florida 20