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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Know Your Enemy: Utah Utes

Sports editor Jackson Reyes leads a Q&A session with The Daily Utah Chronicle’s sports editor Sean Overton

Former UF linebacker Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr. and former Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid compete in a play in the Gators' 29-26 victory Saturday, Sept. 3, 2023.
Former UF linebacker Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr. and former Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid compete in a play in the Gators' 29-26 victory Saturday, Sept. 3, 2023.

The Florida Gators begin a new campaign Thursday against the No. 14 Utah Utes. 

UF head coach Billy Napier enters his second season with a new starting quarterback in Graham Mertz and a new defensive coordinator in Austin Armstrong. The Gators defeated the Utes last season in dramatic fashion in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. 

This season’s matchup in Salt Lake City looks set to be another competitive game. I connected with Sean Overton, the sports editor of the Daily Utah Chronicle, to get his thoughts on the week one matchup in 2023’s first Know Your Enemy.

With questions about Cam Rising's injury status, what does the quarterback room look like? And if Rising does play, could he be at 100% by the time the game kicks off?

Overton: The latest word is Cam Rising plans to play. I don't believe he'll be 100%, but his knowledge and experience will undoubtedly be valuable. If he doesn't play, we have a very versatile QB room that will adapt to the game. 

Who are the key returning pieces who could impact Thursday's game?

Overton: Some big returning players include linebacker Lander Barton and running backs Ja'Quinden Jackson and Micah Bernard. All of these players made improvements last year, and I'm expecting more of the same. Brant Kuithe is still "day-to-day" but will make an impact if he suits up. 

In last season's matchup, the Gators ran for 283 yards on 7.3 yards per attempt. The loss of quarterback Anthony Richardson hurts Florida's versatility, but who anchors the defensive unit, and how will Utah match up against Florida's run-heavy offense? 

Overton: Barton, a sophomore coming off of a Pacific-12 Defensive Player of the Year, will be a critical piece in Utah's defense. Linebacker Karene Reid also has the potential to have some game-changing plays. 

What are Utah's strengths going into this season? What about their possible weaknesses?

Overton: In my (slightly biased) opinion, Utah's strengths and weaknesses are tricky. There aren't too many shortcomings, but the team isn't the best at any position right now. There will always be teams out there stronger than Utah at some positions, but Utah has very strong rooms across the board. 

Some of the talks last season revolved around how Utah would handle the heat and humidity of Gainesville. Could the elevated altitude of Salt Lake affect the Gators' performance?

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Overton: Playing in Utah will definitely be a factor. Besides the traditional advantage of being at home, the Gators will likely struggle with the high elevation. Fortunately for Florida, there won't be snow on the ground yet, but it will be an environment the Gators aren’t too comfortable with. It won't be a major factor, but elevation may have an impact. 

Finally, how do you see the game playing out? Do the Gators upset the Utes in back-to-back seasons, or does Utah get redemption? 

Overton: With Rising's status still appearing unknown, I'm expecting the Utes to focus on the running game and show strong drives to start Utah's season. I believe Utah wins this game by a slim margin.

Utes: 30

Gators: 24 

Contact Jackson Reyes at jacksonreyes@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @JacksnReyes.


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Jackson Reyes

Jackson Reyes is a UF journalism senior and The Alligator's Fall 2023 Sports Editor. He previously served as Digital Managing Editor and was a reporter and assistant editor on the sports desk. In his free time, he enjoys collecting records, long walks on the beach and watching Bo Nix.


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