The Florida Gators youth movement was alive and well on Saturday in a 63-10 win over Idaho.
On a day meant to celebrate those coming to the end of their careers, it was the ones whose careers are just beginning who stole the show.
With the Gators taking control early, young players who haven’t gotten much (or any) playing time this season had the chance to get in the game and give a glimpse into the future of the program. If that was any indication, it looks bright.
Along with guys like Amari Burney, Ventrell Miller and James Houston, redshirt freshman Zach Carter made his first mark on the Florida defense.
As a defensive end, he has had to sit back in one of Florida’s best and deepest position groups. Veteran playmakers like Jachai Polite and Jabari Zuniga have made it nearly impossible for a young player like Carter to jump in the mix.
He made a pair of great plays to bat down passes from Idaho quarterback Mason Petrino along with three tackles against Idaho.
It can be hard for players to stay patient with few opportunities early in their careers, but Carter has done a good job of that and there will surely be room for him next year with some of the older guys likely moving on.
“I just accept it and just keep working,” Carter said. “I never let it get me down because I know my time is going to come. I just encourage everybody and try to work hard and when my time comes, it comes.”
On offense, Dameon Pierce got to carry the load on the ground. He had a career-high 13 carries in the game and led the team with 77 yards.
While he had a nice day, his praise went to fellow freshman Emory Jones.
Jones took over as Florida’s quarterback in the second half and did well as he completed 12 of his 16 passes for 125 yards and a couple of touchdowns. He made some big-time throws to show off the development of his passing game.
He impressed both Pierce and head coach Dan Mullen in how he took over as a leader of the offense when the older guys started subbing out and younger ones started subbing in. That’s when players really started looking to him to take control.
“With him being one of my best friends here, it’s just a great vibe when we’re out there,” Pierce said. “We’re calm when we’re in the backfield. Emory is a cool, calm, collected guy. He’s going to make plays. And sometimes when adversity hits, he handles it very well. That’s one thing I admire about Emory. That’s one thing I look up to Emory about. He handles adversity. He just goes out and plays like nothing happened.”
A couple of freshmen receivers took advantage of some more targets as well.
Wide receiver Jacob Copeland’s only reception came on a pitch from Jones in the third quarter, but he took it 16 yards down the field in what would eventually be a Florida touchdown drive. He stayed unselfish by making a few nice blocks when the ball wasn’t in his hands and he showed some potential in the kick return game.
Tight end Kyle Pitts has been turning heads with his combination of size and speed all season, and he finally got the chance to get in the end zone on Saturday. He used his breakaway speed to take a quick pass from Feleipe Franks 52 yards for his first career touchdown.
He could’ve easily had a second on a deep ball from Jones later in the game, but it just went off his hands. He might still be kicking himself for that one, but it’s something that will come as he gets more experience.
And when he does get more experience, his skillset is going to be a real problem for opposing teams in the SEC.
“He’s gonna be a heck of a player, especially with Coach Savage and this strength staff,” said redshirt senior tight end R.J. Raymond. “He’s gonna put on some weight and he’s gonna be a force to be reckoned with here in the future. He’s gonna be a mismatch all over the field. I’m excited for Kyle, I can’t wait to watch these guys play in a couple years down the road.”
For Raymond, it was his last time playing in The Swamp, but for all the players mentioned above, there’s still plenty more to come. He seems to think they are in good hands for the long haul.
“Man, they lucked out with this coaching staff,” Raymond said. “I wish I would have had them my entire five years here. They’re great. They’re gonna get this program rolling in the right direction. As far as advice goes, just keep putting your head down and working hard, and everything’s going to fall in place. Especially with the people that are here to get this thing rolling.”