Game one is in the books for Florida football, and the Gators fell short against Utah 24-11. After an entire offseason of hypotheticals, Florida did show some willingness to evolve, while other areas showed no signs of improvement.
So what went right and what went wrong for the Florida Gators against Utah?
Florida Football What Went Right: The defense did its job
We said prior to the game that one of the pathways for the Gators to pull off the upset was for Shemar James to have at least 10 tackles. If Florida could neutralize the running game of Utah and force Bryson Barnes to throw the ball, the Gators would be fine on defense.
And James did his part, finishing with 13 total tackles, six of which were solo, and Utah never really had a consistent threat on the ground. The Utes finished with 105 yards rushing off 30 attempts for an average of just 3.5 yards per carry.
And really, for the Gator defense as a whole, it was a good night. The first play was an abject disaster as R.J. Motten bit on an underneath route to allow a 70-yard touchdown, but Austin Armstrong’s crew settled in after that.
After that play, Utah only managed 200 yards of offense the rest of the game. The Gators didn’t manage any sacks or turnovers, which was disappointing, but they also weren’t getting gashed with any consistency, and it bodes well moving forward.
Mertz was as advertised
Another pathway to victory we listed for the Gators was for Graham Mertz to have at least a 60% completion rate. He was pretty much as advertised. His final stat line was 31 for 44 for 333 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
He never felt panicked, even with a collapsing line around him. He showcased that while he doesn’t have an elite arm (see his long pass to Pearsall), he is competent enough to keep the ball moving and wasn’t the reason why the Gators lost.
Tight ends might be a strength
Admittedly, we did too.
But at least on the pass-catching side of things, the tight ends for Florida were very productive. Jonathan Odom had four catches for 46 yards, and Marcus Burke had two catches for 61 yards.
What Went Wrong
It is one thing if a team gets beat because it just isn’t talented enough. But when a team gets beat because it can’t count, that’s an unforgivable sin that can’t happen.
After getting a third down stop at midfield in the second quarter, Utah punted.
Eugene Wilson and Jason Marshall were both on the field for the Gators to return the punt.
Just one problem: both players wear number three, and they are not allowed to be on the field at the same time.
Utah gained a first down from the infraction, and four plays later were in the endzone.
Special teams, in general
Beyond the counting fiasco, special teams were abysmal for the Gators. One of the peculiar things Napier does with his staff is that no one of the allotted 11 assistant coaches he has is listed as the special teams coordinator. That job falls to Chris Couch, who is considered “Support Staff” and is listed for the second year in a row as the “GameChanger Coordinator.”
The game changed all right. Adam Mihalek missed a 31-yard field goal, and Florida’s punt returners kept fielding punts well inside the ten-yard line.
The sequence that led to Utah’s third touchdown to make it 24-3 started with Eugene Wilson getting tackled on the seven-yard line. Three plays later was the Mertz interception, and three plays after that was the Utah touchdown.
Keeping with the theme that Florida basically beat itself last night, Florida football had three drives end due to presnap penalties, two of which wound up costing Florida points:
- False start on 3rd and 1 from their own 28
- False start on 4th and 1 on the nine-yard line, followed up by Mihalek’s missed FG
- Illegal Formation on 3rd and 1 on the 13-yard line, leading to a failed fourth down attempt
In a 13-point game, the latter two could quite literally have been the difference for the Gators.
The line was offensive
When we listed our top five concerns for the Gators in 2023, the offensive line was number one. There are a lot of new faces, and because of injuries, they haven’t had time to work together fully.
After being a strength last season, the offensive line was a massive weakness last night.
We said our third key to the game was going to be averaging six yards per carry. After all, Florida averaged 7.2 yards per carry last year against Utah.
Last night the Gators managed 13 yards on 21 attempts.
Trevor Etienne had 25 yards on seven attempts. Montrell Johnson touched the ball just three times for six yards.
There was nowhere for them to run, and it raises massive questions as to what Florida’s identity will be this season.
Add in the five sacks Mertz took, and it was not a good showing by the offensive line.