GC VIP Stadium Road Audibles — 9/12/23 Edition

Sometimes you just need to practice against someone who’s not yourself. That’s the best way to describe the Gators’ dominant win over McNeese: a good practice against new players they don’t go up against every day.

I don’t want to be Mr. Raincloud over here, but you should keep this win in perspective. While McNeese is sometimes one of the better FCS teams, they very much aren’t this year. They lost to fellow FCS outfit Tarleton State 52-34 in Week 1.

I’m not worried about the Gators scoring fewer points than TSU did. UF was using the game as a glorified rushing clinic, and that kept the clock moving more than it did in the prior game. The Gator defense also essentially snuffed out the Cowboys’ offense until some points came off of a turnover late after the benches had well and truly emptied, so it basically was a shutout.

Just about anywhere the team fell short in your judgment is merely a quirk of the goals that Billy Napier had for the game. McNeese was so overmatched that Florida basically could do whatever it wanted with the game.

I haven’t seen a defense so thoroughly hopeless against Florida since Samford in 2021. UF blew through that team with more ease, but it had to since the Gator defense decided to celebrate Todd Grantham’s firing by taking the week off. Florida trailed at the half in that one by a still-unbelievable score of 42-35, so UF wasn’t running clock by doing zone right and zone left over and over.

The one thing the visitors did well was prevent explosive plays, which seemed to be the only thing they were trying to do on defense. Credit to their head coach: every time he had a chance to speak on the telecast, he did so as though he was seriously interested in winning the game. Even as it was a lost cause, he still framed his comments as though he was after real victory and not a moral victory.

As such, the Cowboys’ strategy was to drop extra guys back deep to avoid giving up bombs. They largely succeeded until Graham Mertz’s 50-yarder to Ricky Pearsall in the second half, but even on that play, the other deep route was double-covered. There were even a couple times before the half where Mertz took off running despite having unlimited time in the pocket because so many guys had dropped that no one was open.

McNeese gave up a lot of easy rushes from having dropped a ton of guys all the time, but that was the tradeoff they were willing to make: draw things out as much as possible and hope Florida made enough mistakes to have a chance to make a game of it. They didn’t have the horses to do it, and their offense was completely hopeless until late, but it’s as sound a strategy as could be had in the game. You can actually see it in the scoring plays. Six of UF’s seven touchdowns were rushes of less than ten yards, and four of the six were five yards or fewer.

It’d be hard to ask more from the defense. The Cowboys’ first drive did go nine plays long, but they advanced just 33 yards in the process. After that, it felt like a miracle any time McNeese did anything to even move the sticks. When they dropped back to pass more as the point margin got wider, the pass rush got home a lot more often. This game checked every box.

We didn’t get to see the completely clean game we’d hoped for after the slop of the Utah outing. However a bad snap on an extra point and an offsides that helped extend the first McNeese drive aside, the team was largely fine after a couple of early issues. I don’t love having two false starts in front of a friendly home crowd, though.

Regardless, it certainly looked like the players had fun after a tough way to start the year. Plenty of young players got in the game, which is always a good thing. No, playing in front of a 60% full Swamp against a bad FCS team isn’t exactly making a young guy become battle tested. You still don’t want someone’s first time stepping onto a college field to be in a big game, though. Ideally they’ll get those jitters out when it doesn’t really matter, and a bunch of guys got that Saturday night.

It certainly was a performance that beat Tennessee struggling with Austin Peay for longer than anyone expected. It wasn’t close, really, but the Governors were only down by a touchdown at the half. They were a much better team than McNeese was last year, but they aren’t close to an FCS playoff contender either and lost at Southern Illinois by 26 in Week 1. The Vols only ended up beating them by 17.

Am I predicting a Florida win over Tennessee? Not yet, but I have been underwhelmed by UT so far this year. I was also underwhelmed by UF’s execution in Week 1, so it could end up being just an ugly game all around. We’ll see.

But as for Week 2, most everything seems improved. Florida made a bad FCS team look like a terrible FCS team. That’ll do.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2