There are troubled waters brewing in the Swamp. Coming into the season, the expectations weren’t high for the Florida Gators but this program has a short patience for success. National Championship-caliber football is the standard and another losing season from the Gators may lead to the seat warmers being turned on for Billy Napier.
In their Week 1 loss against Utah, the Gators looked flat and there’s a lot of concern about the direction of this program. There were some ups-and-downs in their loss but luckily there’s a lot of football left to be played. Here are the strengths and weaknesses that could make or break the season.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the Florida Gators After Week 1 Loss
The defense has the potential to be a talented group and has to be the strength of the football team. Yes, the Utes were without Cameron Rising but the defense had an impressive outing. They held a talented Utah offense to 270 yards and 24 points which should be looked at as a win.
After a 70-yard touchdown to open the game up, the defense locked in and kept the Utes from looking effective for most of the game. The Gators defense played well, especially in the second half. They shut down the Utah offense and the only touchdown given up came off a turnover deep in their own territory.
Ricky Pearsall showed he can and will be a reliable number-one option. He played a huge part in generating offense and needs more touches going forward. He finished the game with eight catches for 92 yards. Pearsall will be the go-to guy but they need others to make plays as well. If the Gators offense wants to show any type of efficiency they should continue to feed Pearsall, he’s an electric player who could be used in a variety of ways.
Play Calling/ Quarterback Play
Graham Mertz will have to find ways to win with his arm. He struggled despite what the stats may show. Inaccuracy and timing between him and the wide receivers left a lot of points and opportunities on the field. They struggled with spreading the field, which won’t win you anything in the SEC. One bad game doesn’t determine a team, but unless they find a way to get their playmakers and quarterback on the same page, it’ll be a long season.
Mertz shouldn’t get a ton of blame because the play-calling didn’t work in the Gators favor either, especially in the red zone. Several times the offense was in a position to score but questionable plays and situational awareness would keep them out of the end zone. Their offense isn’t built to light up a scoreboard, so they have to be efficient every time a scoring opportunity comes around.
Why Abandon The Run?
Utah’s defense made the rushing game for the Gators look inexistent. When they fell behind they got away from the run game. Montrell Johnson Jr. and Trevor Etienne combined for 10 carries and 31 yards. The success of the offense will rely heavily on the run game but they have to figure out a healthy balance of run and pass. Abandoning the run game will put Mertz in difficult situations. The Gators have two extremely gifted runners, they should continue to lean on them to find that offensive spark.
Keeping The Chains Moving
Unless they figure out how to win “money downs” they’re going to be in big trouble throughout the season. Third and fourth down conversions were the biggest issue against Utah, they were 3-18. Along with costly penalties, they were shooting themselves in the foot whenever they gained a little momentum. They have to find ways to avoid long-to-go situations, especially on nights when the offense is struggling.
Red Zone Troubles/ Missed Opportunities
Leaving points on the board is a recipe for disaster, and it was on Thursday night. They reached the red zone four times with only 11 points to show for it. Similar to the third-down issue, the inability to execute kept them from scoring. They moved the ball well throughout the game but inside the 20 they failed to cap off drives with points.
At the beginning of the second quarter, they would get down to the Utah nine-yard line on 4th & 1. A false start would push them back and this penalty would result in a missed field goal. Around the midway mark in the third quarter, they once again would find themselves in the red zone. On a third-and-short, the Gators would convert with a run up the middle, but once again, it was stalled by an illegal formation penalty. They would be stopped on fourth down and give Utah the ball back.
Back To The Drawing Board
There were many opportunities for the Gators to beat Utah but they shouldn’t panic quite yet. It was week one, on the road against the No. 14 ranked team. This was a chance to knock the rust off and they must figure out their identity. They showed flashes of how good they could be. They will look to bounce back against McNeese State in their home opener on September 9th.
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