In just another example of proof a Multiverse exists, Florida actually exhibited an offense that looked like it came from the 21st century and came away with a thrilling 41-39 win at South Carolina. I can only hope Billy Napier finally has had an epiphany of sorts and realized he wouldn’t be long for his current job unless he ditched his ultra risk-averse philosophy and allowed his offense to play aggressively for an entire game.
The Gator offense was a revelation, consistently throwing the ball to all levels of the field and challenging the defense to cover in space. And, not surprisingly, they couldn’t, and Florida’s playmakers could actually make plays in 1-on-1 matchups. It appears that some Miracle-Gro was applied to the route shrub and it became a tree – for at least one game. Ricky Pearsall had a huge game with some clutch catches and the game-winning TD, Kahliel Jackson had a huge reception and got his own TD later in the same 2nd-quarter drive, and Eugene Wilson made some great runs on jet sweeps and also had the key reception from the deflection off of Pearsall’s hands on the winning drive. TE Arlis Boardingham again came up big, catching a TD to close the score to 37-34, and saving the game with his 4th-down reception and run to keep that last drive alive. Even TE Hayden Hansen had a few 1st-down receptions and the 2-point conversion catch. When Florida did run the ball, Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne combined for over 100 yards, providing the balance needed with such a pass-heavy attack. All this despite Graham Mertz getting punished behind a shaky O-line. Mertz has definitely shown he’s tough……and been forced to way too often. The OL have to improve if he’s to survive the rest of the season, and give the Gators any hope of winning some games.
Florida’s defense, sadly, was as bad as the offense was good. I don’t know what’s happened to the run defense recently, but they have been gashed repeatedly and the tackling has been abysmal. I mean, looking like 2022 all over again. I was incredibly frustrated that DC Austin Armstrong didn’t employ a spy against Carolina QB Spencer Rattler, and it almost cost the Gators the game. Rattler continually extended drives by running for first downs and extending drives. This kind of defense has to be addressed in the off week – at all 3 levels – including some possible schematic changes. The D-line played a little better than the numbers suggest, as they were constantly held by the Lamecock OL. They were able to get occasional penetration into the backfield and some pressure on Rattler, but there usually was no LB to clean things up where there should have been. It’s pretty much Shemar James and a cast of thousands at LB right now, which is a disappointment. The secondary didn’t do itself any favors, either, allowing too many easy catches and yards after the catch as well. The tackling by the back seven was horrific – both the technique and effort were sorely lacking. To their credit, the defense did hold up on Carolina’s final 2 possessions, getting pressure on the QB and making the game-sealing interception. This group is regressing, though, and has to right the ship.
Props again to Trey Smack, who made 4 of 5 FG attempts, including a 54-yarder to close out the first half and give the Gators a 24-21 lead. His emergence has filled what was a huge deficiency and helped steady the special teams overall. Every one of his made kicks was needed, and he’ll be relied upon again with the upcoming schedule.
This was a massive win for Napier and the entire program. Yes, the opponent wasn’t great, but Carolina was coming off of a bye week, made some serious personnel changes that hadn’t been seen on film, and have played pretty well against other good opponents. I can only hope Napier uses the same aggressive approach with the offense the rest of the way, no matter the results. The balance of the schedule is much more difficult, with 4 Top 10 and 2 Top 5 opponents left to play. If you’re gonna go to battle against those kinds of teams, go in with everything you have and give your team it’s best chance. This win will provide a much-needed shot of confidence to the players. They’ll need the off-week, as many guys have been playing hurt for weeks due to the lack of both quality depth and experience on the roster. I’ll be back next week with my preview of Florida vs. the #1 Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville.