Florida got a much-needed win in College Station, defeating a depleted and imploding Texas A&M 41-24. The Aggies were missing 31 players due to injury, illness, or suspension, but I’ll take it. The Gators were coming off of a beatdown to their rival and facing the possibility of falling under .500, so getting this win was huge for the mental makeup of a team trying to close the season on an uptick.
The Gators did what they should have done on offense – running at the Aggies early and often, and piling up close to 300 yards on the ground against a poor run defense. Anthony Richardson actually did more of what he should be doing in the running game, keeping the ball more on the read option and hurting opponents with his legs to loosen the defense. His 60-yard TD run highlighted an excellent first half for the offense, and every point was needed. The Gators were forced into playing some young WRs due to injuries, and they stepped up. Both Caleb Douglas and Ja’Quavion Fraziars made key TD grabs. Ricky Pearsall was given more touches (as I’ve been begging for all season) and did damage on both receptions and on jet sweeps. Why Billy Napier refused to do this all season is still a mystery. The O-line blocked well, and opened some massive holes for Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne to rumble through.
DC Patrick Toney again came out in his shell, allowing another mediocre QB to look like a Heisman candidate and causing the Gators to trail 24-20 at the half. After the Gators finally started playing closer coverage and blitzing Haynes King relentlessly, he played down to his usual level and the defense shut out the Aggies in the second half. Ventrell Miller did a great job of defending and tackling Devon Achane in space in the flats. The front seven actually got pressure on the QB when they blitzed, and DE Princely Umanmielen forced a strip sack and turnover to stop a Texas A&M 4th quarter drive to effectively close out the game.
I revel in the misery that is Dumbo Fisher right now. That scumbag can’t lose enough, and one more loss guarantees they stay home for bowl season. Not bad for the $90 million coach and the program that paid millions for their recruiting class that is already causing locker room upheaval.
Florida now returns to the Swamp for it’s final home game of the year to face South Carolina. It is essential for the Gators to build on last week’s win and gain momentum for the coming end of the regular season. I would hope Florida has all of the motivation it needs for this game. They embarrassed themselves and everyone associated with the football program by laying down and quitting in last year’s game, and owe the Lamecocks the Big Payback.
Carolina is led on offense by QB Spencer Rattler, who transferred in from Oklahoma after losing the starting job there last season. He lost the job for some good reasons – he couldn’t read defenses and was a turnover machine. So far in 2022 he’s only marginally better, and if the Gator front seven can continue to apply pressure, they should be good. Carolina leans on a running game led by Marshawn Lloyd – if the Gators can slow him down, then opportunities will present themselves for some sacks and possible turnovers. Antwane Wells is by far their leading WR, but they do a decent job of throwing to their RBs, so Ventrell Miller and Co. will again have to prove they can cover and tackle well in space.
Carolina’s defense has been pushed around often this season, only to have opponents bail them out with ugly turnovers. In their last game, Texas A&M actually outplayed them but gave the game away. Their secondary has 11 interceptions, and their team thrives on the emotion of turning the ball over. If Florida can continue to protect the football while getting a lead it will be very difficult for Carolina to keep it close. Opponents have had success running the ball, and Florida needs to lean on it’s strength and continue that trend. AR has to be aggressive and take yards when they present themselves – not be timid. WR Justin Shorter may miss a second straight game with a hamstring injury, and Fraziers is out with a bad shoulder. That means Pearsall needs to be fed the ball, and others have to make plays when called upon. Of course, it would help to throw to the RBs more often, but AR simply doesn’t seem to look for it enough.
One thing the Lamecocks do have are excellent special teams. Head Coach Shane Beamer brought that with him after working under his dad at Virginia Tech for years, and he stresses it every day. It has paid off big-time, with multiple punt blocks and other plays that have saved a few wins for them this season. Florida has actually improved it’s kick return game the past month, and both punter Jeremy Crawshaw and PK Adam Mihalik have been solid – that needs to continue.
I still haven’t seen Florida put together two consecutive good performances, and I wonder if they will put too much into the fool’s gold of beating a reeling Aggie team and not come out with the fire and sharpness they need. Kickoff is set for 4 pm, and the weather should be perfect. It’s the last home game of 2022, with a lot riding on the outcome. The crowd should be ready and the Swamp alive for what oftentimes is a less-than-compelling matchup. I can only hope Napier and his staff ensure that the team is ready from the opening kickoff – they can start by making the team watch the tape from last year’s debacle. This is another critical game for the “perception” of both Napier and the program’s direction.
Prediction: Florida 31 South Carolina 24