Photo: Montrell Johnson Jr.; Credit: Alex Shepherd
We wrote entering Week 3, when Florida was set to host USF, that the Bulls presented the Gators with an excellent "get-right" matchup following UF's loss to Kentucky the week prior.
But the Gators were only able to defeat the Bulls by three points, 31-28, creating much more concern around the team's progress rather than reassurance as had been expected.
We're reluctant to call Florida's matchup with Eastern Washington, the Gators' lone game with an FCS squad this season, a "get-right" game after the loss to Tennessee last on Saturday as we did regarding the USF contest. We still feel pretty strongly, however, that UF will emerge victorious, and the results of the key matchups compiled below will be large reasons why.
Gators rushing offense vs. Eagles rushing defense
Eastern Washington's rushing defense ranks No. 123 in the FCS, allowing 302.7 yards per game. That's good last place, with 5.2 yards per game of separation from No. 122 and 25.5 yards per game removed from two programs tied at No. 120.
Opposing offenses are rushing an astounding 54 times per game against the Eagles, averaging 5.6 yards per carry and 3.3 touchdowns per contest on the ground.
You could make a legitimate argument that Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson shouldn't have to attempt a pass in this game going into it. Of course, that won't be the case, but the formula for UF to win this game is simple: Tote the rock as often as possible and get out of The Swamp early.
We expect to see each of UF's top three running backs, Nay'Quan Wright, Montrell Johnon Jr. and Trevor Etienne, to post at least ten carries on Sunday. Perhaps the trio will have another three-touchdown day (one apiece) as it did against USF.
UF's pass rush vs. EWU QB Gunner Talkington
The Eagles haven't been anything special this year offensively, but Eastern Washington can thank sixth-year redshirt senior and first-year starting quarterback Gunner Talkington for its No. 47-ranked (out of 123 FCS teams) scoring offense at 28.3 points per game.
Talkington has been one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the FCS this season, completing 61.3 percent of his 93 passes for 636 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions in three games.
He's been money as a short-to-intermediate passer, going 55-of-76 (72.4 percent) for 573 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception on passes behind the line of scrimmage up to 20 yards, per PFF. Eight of his touchdowns have been 10-to-19-yard passes, where he is 13-of-16 for 248 yards, and five of his 36 passes between zero-to-nine yards have been dropped, too.
If Talkington can get into a short-to-intermediate groove against the Gators, Eastern Washington's offense could cause some headaches. Florida's pass rush is the key in preventing that from happening.
The 5-foot-10, 215-pound Eagles signal-caller has struggled immensely under pressure, completing just 7-of-21 passes with two interceptions on 36 pressured dropbacks (31.6 percent of his total dropbacks). UF's pass rush should have little-to-no issue collapsing the pocket and making Talkington uncomfortable — for what it's worth, the Oregon Ducks tallied 14 pressures against the Eagles' offensive line in Week 2, the only other FBS team on EWU's schedule.
UF will need to be on alert for Talkington's mobility, however, as athletic QBs have run all over the Gators' defense this season. Talkington has been sacked seven times, but he's also shown the ability to scramble out of pressure, averaging 8.2 yards per non-designed run this year.
Keeping Talkington contained and, ultimately, putting him in the dirt can stop the Eagles' offense from posing any kind of threat on Sunday. Florida's pass rush, particularly new starting defensive end Justus Boone — who has flashed as a pass rusher this year — will be tested, even with the talent gap in mind.
Florida's new starters vs. increased responsibilities
Boone isn't the only new face among the starters on Florida's defense for Week 5. Fourth-year redshirt sophomore Jaydon Hill is back in the lineup at cornerback following two separate knee injuries that kept him sidelined since his last appearance in the 2020 Cotton Bowl.
Freshman Kamari Wilson and sophomore Donovan McMillon are considered co-first-teamers, too, at safety, filling in for the injured Trey Dean III. Additionally, sophomore Desmond Watson will make his second career and consecutive start at nose tackle.
Whether it has been due to injury or simply looking for better play, the Gators' coaching staff hasn't been afraid to tweak its depth chart on the defensive side of the ball in recent weeks. Considering the Eagles aren't all that daunting of an opponent, it will be of utmost importance to see these new starters and other young contributors fulfill their responsibilities and make plays.
At safety in particular, Dean has been at fault for several explosive passing plays given up that have set opponents up to score. He's also struggled in pursuit of ball-carriers which has resulted in chunk rushing plays given up. The hope is that one of if not both Wilson and McMillon could offer improvement in those respects, and if they can, there's a chance that this depth chart change could become a permanent one.
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