It wasn’t pretty, but it was a much-needed win for the Gators, celebrating Homecoming with a 24-17 win over Missouri that was less satisfying than it should have been.
At the halfway point of the season, I’ve seen enough of Anthony Richardson to know that you simply don’t know what to expect week-to-week or even series-to-series. It’s 2022, and Florida ends up with 66 yards passing, which is unacceptable. AR is holding this offense back, despite the conservative nature of the overall scheme and playcalling by Billy Napier and Rob Sale. He has plenty of opportunities to take off and run for easy yards, especially on the read option, but he refuses to do it. His scramble led to Florida’s final score to extend the lead to 24-10, but even then he took off almost too late with a wide-open middle of the field beckoning him. Then, he turned the ball over late with a seven-point lead that gave Missouri the chance to tie or win the game at the end.
After a pedestrian first half, the running game came alive with over 200 yards in the second half alone, controlling the clock and the scoreboard until the last 4 minutes. Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson broke off some long runs to lead two TD drives of over 80 yards, which wore down the Tiger defense. The lack of balance with the paltry passing game was the only reason this game remained in doubt until the end, and that’s not going to win the upcoming games. I really feel for the WR corps – they are getting too much criticism, and it has to be frustrating to block well for the run and also fighting to get open, just to have the ball thrown nowhere near too often. Thank goodness Ricky Pearsall made such a good adjustment on his TD catch which proved to be the game-winner.
It’s really hard to watch this year’s Gator defense struggle given the new staff and system in place. Something is fundamentally wrong, and I suspect DC Patrick Toney needs to scrap his 3-3-5 alignment, as it ain’t working. When Florida actually put more defenders at the LOS, they did a decent job of stopping the run……then they would get away from it. Ventrell Miller had an excellent day making tackles sideline-to-sideline, but none of the other LBs stood out. The feel-good story of the season to date came from the play of DB Jaydon Hill, who had a pick-six to give Florida an early 10-0 lead, then made a second interception in the red zone to protect a 17-10 lead. He battled serious injuries for the past 2 seasons, and I hope he’s due for some good luck with his health. The soft coverage by the secondary as a whole continues to be maddening – why these guys aren’t allowed to play closer to the WRs and more physically to disrupt routes is not winning football against good teams.
LSU is next up at the Swamp, coming off of a beatdown suffered at home in Death Valley to Tennessee. While the score wasn’t close, LSU did move the ball well. Between turnovers and their defense getting shredded, their offense is simply not built to get into a shootout. QB Jayden Daniels is going to be a problem for the Gator defense, as they have not stopped over even slowed a running QB all season. He has one of the best WRs in the country to throw to in Kayshon Boutte, but surprisingly their running game has been struggling. Daniels has masked that with his legs, and Florida had better contain the edges with a disciplined rush or it’s going to be a long night. It’s a shame that the Gators simply don’t have the talent and depth in front seven to dominate the LOS against a weak O-line.
The Tiger defense has played poorly. Injuries along the D-line and inexperience in the secondary have hurt them, but it’s up to AR to exploit those weaknesses. Even a modicum of success throwing the ball should lead to plenty of scoring opportunities. Florida’s O-line has a distinct advantage, and the running game should again be reliable if AR can provide some balance through the air. I’m still waiting for more quick throws to the RBs in the flats to help move the ball more consistently, but is AR accurate enough to even make those easy throws? Expect more of what we’ve seen from opposing defenses……stacking the box until the Gators can prove they can pass.
This game is certainly a measuring stick to see where Florida is halfway into the season. They have enough experience and have played a tough enough schedule to be ready for this game. Sadly, I get the feeling the defense is going to continue to struggle containing QB runs, while the secondary has already made enough mediocre QBs look effective. I’m afraid it will turn into another one of those weird Florida-LSU games, where the Gators will find a way to give the game away late to the Tigers, even in the Swamp. Brian Kelly has to be one of the most dislikable coaches in the country, with his sideline antics at Notre Dame, poor treatment of fans and the press, and his fake Cajun accent and BS “fam-uh-lee” talk about the LSU program once he arrived. I’m not picking the Gators to win, but I’m gonna love it if they stick it to the Tigers for years of crazy outcomes that have gone against Florida.
There is one other subplot for this game, and that’s the treatment of Napier by the LSU football program while he was in Louisiana. He was continuously ridiculed for his coaching methods and treated like a little brother that’s nothing more than a pest. Their administration completely blew him off regarding their coaching vacancy, so he will have extra emotional energy for this series. Maybe he can transfer some of that to his team.
Prediction: LSU 28 Florida 24