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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Column: Win over UAB shows Gators have the tools to beat Florida State

<p><span id="docs-internal-guid-49c3778d-d25a-4ae5-45c1-060be23ebc4f"><span id="docs-internal-guid-49c3778d-d25a-4ae5-45c1-060be23ebc4f">UF’s rushing attack exploded for 257 yards against UAB on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.</span></span></p>

UF’s rushing attack exploded for 257 yards against UAB on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Are you tired of retorting, “Oh yeah? Well our academics are better,” when a Florida State fan asserts their football team’s superiority? I would be.

The Seminoles have won four straight matchups against the Gators by an average margin of nearly 20 points.

Despite a down season for Florida (4-6), the Gators remembered how to win on Saturday, snapping a five-game skid in 37-6 fashion over UAB (7-4). And while the Blazers aren’t exactly a powerhouse — ranked last of all FBS teams in strength of schedule — the Gators’ victory gave me three reasons to think UF has a shot to knock off the ‘Noles (4-6) next week.

1) The Gators started forcing turnovers again

Florida’s defense has been subpar all season, but in the last two weeks, UF forced eight total turnovers. The Gators’ defense earned its first two fumble recoveries of the season on Saturday (excluding a muffed punt against South Carolina).

Defensive tackle Taven Bryan said UF’s coaches are making players practice forcing turnovers three to four times a week, and it’s paying off.

“People have been making less mental mistakes,” Bryan said. “They really got us locked in and they really turned it around.”

It’s an area of vulnerability for a Florida State team that ranks bottom five in the nation in turnover margin, having forced just eight and given away 18.

2) Florida’s rushing attack came alive

Adarius Lemons

Adarius Lemons rushed for a team-high and career-high 89 yards on 11 carries during Florida’s 36-7 win on Saturday.

Ever since UF’s starting running back, freshman Malik Davis, suffered a season-ending knee injury against Georgia, the Gators have struggled to move the ball on the ground. After totaling just 93 yards against Missouri and 78 against South Carolina, UF’s rushing attack exploded for 257 yards against UAB.

“Our run game offensively really kicked in tonight,” UF interim coach Randy Shannon said. “I think the running backs and offensive line did a tremendous job of running the football and getting big plays for us to put us in situations to score the touchdowns.”

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Freshman running back Adarius Lemons, who had never carried the ball more than three times in a single game, rushed for 89 yards on 11 attempts, along with a long would-be touchdown run that was called back due to a holding penalty. Redshirt senior Mark Thompson had one of his best games as well, breaking four runs of more than 10 yards and finishing with a season-best 78 yards on the ground.

3) UF kicker Eddy Pineiro is back to being automatic

The Seminoles have won just four games this season, and excluding a 77-6 thrashing of Delaware State on Saturday, all of their wins have been by seven points or fewer. Against a team that has had a handful of one-score decisions, Florida benefits from having kicker Eddy Pineiro in peak form. On Saturday, Pineiro become the first UF kicker to make two 50-yard field goals in the game and finished with five. He hasn’t missed a field goal since Florida’s season-opening loss to Michigan.

“Kicking is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical,” Pineiro said. “If you’re right in the head, you’ll make every field goal.”

You can follow Matt Brannon on Twitter @MattB_727, and contact him at mbrannon@alligator.org.

UF’s rushing attack exploded for 257 yards against UAB on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

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