It was a gallant effort, but Florida sadly had too much to overcome defensively in a 38-33 loss on Rocky Top.
Anthony Richardson bounced back from 2 dreadful weeks with his best performance as a Gator, accounting for almost 500 yards of offense, making some clutch throws, and running with more purpose than since the opener against Utah. The offense ran a lot of plays and controlled the clock like it hoped to, but wasn’t good enough to overcome a few critical mistakes as well as a putrid defensive effort. The only real disappointment was in the running game, where Tennessee jammed the LOS between the tackles and dared Florida to run outside. The O-line struggled in run blocking, but did give AR enough time and room to make multiple big plays. The WRs stepped up with their best game of the season. Ricky Pearsall was great between the hash marks, Justin Shorter was finally allowed to use his size to outmaneuver smaller CBs, and the rest of the WRs and TEs had their share of catches. I’d still like to see more throws to the RBs to help AR out when pressured, but at least for this game that is nitpicking, as overall the offense played a winning game.
The Gator defense was a no-show, getting embarrassed by Hendon Hooker both passing and running the football. There are continued blown assignments in the secondary, especially by Trey Dean, who personally accounted for 2 Vol TDs with brain-lock lack of coverage. The D-line was only marginally better, getting some occasional pressure and a few sacks, but never doing it consistently or stepping up to make a critical stop. The LB corps was slightly better, but only when Ventrell Miller was in the game calling out the assignments and making some plays. Once he re-aggravated his ankle injury, the unit fell back to it’s unsound ways in both filling the running lanes and in coverage. There need to be some significant changes to both the personnel and schemes, because what they are trying to do isn’t working. It’s stunning to see so many uncovered receivers, along with lack of attention to a mobile QB that can run when needed.
Now, as far as Billy Napier’s 4-down and 2-point conversion calls, that’s it’s own discussion. I understand his aggression with the defense playing so poorly, knowing he had to try and give his offense as many snaps and scoring opportunities as possible. That being said, I would have taken the FG on the first drive of the game, not just to give the offense some reward for an excellent opening drive, but also because those points came back to haunt him in the 4th quarter. Which leads directly to the decision to go for 2 when Florida scored to close to 38-27. Getting 2 points there still leaves you down 9, meaning 2 scores are required to win or tie. Making it a 10 point margin there allows you the opportunity to go for 2 and the win if that opportunity presents itself at the end. Being down 11 can only get you a possible tie, unless somehow you score 2 TDs that late, which is very unlikely. I just hope analytics aren’t overused by this staff, as I’ve already seen too many coaches cause their team unnecessary losses when solely relying on said numbers.
Patrick Toney apparently is going to be a Defensive Coordinator-in-training this season, I haven’t been impressed with his schemes, and I wonder if he realizes what the definition of doing the same thing over and over again with the same personnel is. It’s time to make some tough decisions at safety and LB, and also time to get some of the young guys on the D-line more reps. Chris McClellan is showing some juice at DT, Jamari Lyons may need to be forced into more snaps, and I would suck it up and move Gervon Dexter to SSDE – he needs to drop 25-30 pounds and be the DE that can actually set the edge against the run. It seems he has added too much weight to be as quick and explosive as he was 2 years ago – even though he is playing DT to try and help the team as much as he can.
Florida returns to the Swamp to take on Eastern Washington this week, but the game will be played on Sunday due to the impacts and damage caused by Hurricane Ian across the state. The Eagles are a solid FCS team that usually makes their Playoff field, and will be playing with nothing to lose. They have been very ordinary on offense this season, and have also attempted only one field goal in 3 games, which tells me they will likely be going for it on 4th down whenever it’s reasonable. The Gators need to show they can put two consistent games together. It finally appears the coaching staff is doing something about the poor play of the defense, installing 3 new starters – Kamari Wilson at Safety, Justus Boone at DE, and Jaydon Hill at CB. There have been too many busts and some poor play from the previous starters, and it’s time to make some changes. Of course, the new guys could make some mistakes as well, but trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity, and we saw enough of that the previous 4 seasons.
I’m not sure how big the crowd will be, but I imagine it could be significantly smaller and more subdued. I know there are arguments for getting all of the games in so inexperienced players can get reps and helping the local merchants avoid a financial hit. I would have been OK with a week off after the tough first month, allowing the players and coaches some extra time to focus on any potential family issues due to the storm, and also extra time to prepare for the upcoming Missouri and L$U games. Now, there will be distractions for this game and less rest/preparation before the next one.
As always, in a game like this I just hope for the opportunity to play a lot of guys, along with NO INJURIES.
Prediction: Florida 45 EWU 14