After losing their season opener to Michigan in Texas, the Gators were looking for a confidence booster. Florida’s matchup with Northern Colorado was supposed to be the team’s get-back-on-track game before its conference schedule begins Sept. 16. But with Hurricane Irma approaching, No. 22 Florida’s chance at a tune-up game is gone.
UF (0-1) and Northern Colorado (1-0) won’t reschedule their contest, since the teams don’t share a bye week. So after a demoralizing 33-17 loss in which they failed to score an offensive touchdown, the Gators will go into next weekend’s game against No. 25 Tennessee (1-0) with no diagnostic test to see where their offense stands.
“We were ready to play a game and get that taste out of our mouth,” UF coach Jim McElwain said Thursday in a radio interview. “What we’ve gotta do (now) is hunker down, give up ourselves for the people in distress … and get ready to play Tennessee in the Swamp next week.”
How badly did the Gators need a game to work out their issues on offense?
The team sits dead last in the country in rushing after an 11-yard performance against Michigan (compared to the Wolverines’ 215 yards on the ground). As a whole, the team gained 192 yards when it had the ball — only four FBS teams out of 128 have lower yards-per-game averages.
UF’s offensive line was widely criticized for letting Wolverine defenders run wild in Week 1. But now the bigger question facing the team’s offense is who will be under center to lead it.
Florida’s redshirt freshman quarterback, Feleipe Franks, started against Michigan and was pulled in the second half after fumbling. Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire entered the game but was sacked five times after being quick to abandon the playcall. McElwain said this week that he planned to play both quarterbacks against Northern Colorado. So not only did the Gators lose a chance to get back to .500, but they won’t have an opportunity to sort out the quarterback situation until next week when they face a nationally ranked opponent.
And the offense isn’t the only unit robbed of a chance to correct mistakes made against Michigan. While they finished the season sixth in the nation in scoring defense in 2016, the Gators now sit 94th in the same category after a sloppy performance by a secondary lined with inexperienced freshmen in their season opener.
There goes their chance to bounce back.
“If we don’t get to play, it would be very disappointing because we’re ready to show what we got this week,” linebacker Kylan Johnson said Tuesday before the game was canceled.
But as the Category 4 hurricane’s path turned toward Gainesville, Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said Thursday that asking fans to make the trip during a time of statewide emergency was out of the question.
“We badly wanted to play this football game,” Stricklin said. “Our team badly wanted to play this football game.”
Now, in order to avoid starting the season 0-2 for the first time in 46 years, the Gators will need a win against Tennessee. And they need it badly.
This story has been edited to reflect Irma's current strength.