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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Gators attempt to tame Bulls in Tampa

Florida looks to start the season 2-0 against USF Saturday

Florida's Emory Jones runs with the ball during the Gators' season opener on Sept. 4 against Florida Atlantic.
Florida's Emory Jones runs with the ball during the Gators' season opener on Sept. 4 against Florida Atlantic.

Fresh off a 35-14 thrashing of the Florida Atlantic Owls, the Florida Gators head to Tampa, Florida in another intrastate matchup against the South Florida Bulls Saturday at 1 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium.

The main storyline for the Gators entering Saturday revolves around the most important position in sports: the quarterback. Dan Mullen made it clear Emory Jones is the team’s starting quarterback, but he struggled passing the ball in Week 1, tossing two interceptions and finishing with one of the worst passing grades in the country, according to Pro Football Focus. Fans have spent the last week clamoring for Anthony Richardson after his electric rushing performance against the Owls — AR15 carried the ball seven times for 160 yards and a touchdown last week.

The Bulls are in the middle of their own quarterback controversy after sophomore starter Cade Fortin was benched after five drives against the Wolfpack in favor of freshman Timmy McClain. Head coach Jeff Scott said he expects both quarterbacks to see the field this week against Florida.

Despite the inefficiencies through the air, Florida’s offense got the job done on the ground, totaling 400 yards rushing. Redshirt senior running back Malik Davis led a talented backfield with 104 yards on 14 carries. Florida’s offense looked like a 180-degree flip from 2020, when it lived and died through the air. 

“We’re gonna do what our guys do well,” Mullen said after the FAU win. “Our explosive plays came on the ground tonight… If we need to lead the nation in rushing, we’ll do that.”

The Gators should continue to see success on the ground against South Florida. USF allowed two running backs to go over 100 yards in its 45-0 loss to NC State, including a 163-yard performance by sophomore Zonovan Knight. 

Jones needs to quiet benching requests this week, and USF’s porous defense is a great opportunity for him to get right. Richard Silva, the sports co-editor of the USF Oracle, told The Alligator the Bulls will be without two of their top players in the secondary — Kansas State transfer Will Jones tore his ACL prior to Week 1, and Miami transfer Christian Williams is battling a high-ankle sprain. NC State quarterback Devin Leary completed 17 of 26 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns against USF last week.

The Gators performed well defensively against the Owls and will attempt to continue that success against USF. 

Silva said USF needs to establish the run against Florida to succeed — it offered up just 104 yards total on the ground last week. One name to keep an eye on for the Bulls offensively is Xavier Weaver. Scott compared the junior wideout to DeAndre Hopkins, whom he coached when the star receiver played at Clemson. Expect UF’s top cornerback Kaiir Elam to remain on an island with Weaver Saturday.

Florida edge rusher Zachary Carter attempts to build off his three-sack performance against the Owls in a homecoming game Saturday. The Tampa native could have his work cut out for him, though: despite the shutout loss, the Bulls did not allow a sack last week.

UF has a chance to author a dominant defensive performance in Tampa. The Bulls have not scored a single point in their last three games against Power-5 opponents — they’ve been outscored 146-0 in those games. 

The Gators kick off Week 2 from Raymond James Stadium at 1 p.m. Saturday.

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Contact Michael Hull at mhull@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Hull33.

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Michael Hull

Michael Hull is a third-year journalism major with a specialization in sports & media. He has a minor in business and leadership and is a struggling Jacksonville Jaguars fan.


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