Photo: Ja'Markis Weston; Credit: Zach Goodall, AllGators.com
The Florida Gators are gearing up to head to Tampa (Fla.) for their second contest of the season against the USF Bulls in Raymond James Stadium on Saturday.
During a 35-14 victory in the season opener, Florida was riddled with evident growing pains — mainly offensively — that raised questions for the rest of the season.
As a result, Dan Mullen’s squad has its sights set on improving its execution, with a marquee matchup versus Alabama looming on the horizon. Meanwhile, the group attempts to remain focused on the task at hand.
While there are large expectations for the Gators in their second tune-up game to start the season — indicative of the 28.5-point spread — there are a few battles that could dictate Florida’s ability to win by the margin many believe they should.
Here are AllGators’ two key matchups for the contest against USF in week two.
Gators Defensive Line vs. USF Offensive Line
The Florida Gators defensive line entered the season as arguably the strongest unit from top to bottom that the team had to offer.
Affirming that sentiment in the first week of action, the trench monsters created significant pressure on the FAU offense, bringing down N’Kosi Perry six times, including three sacks by Zach Carter.
In week two, the Gators will face a slightly more difficult test but could find the same success given the depth of the unit and emphasis on keeping players fresh through consistent rotation.
However, it won’t be a cakewalk.
Returning all five starting offensive linemen from last season, USF got off to a fast start against NC State despite the final score not reflecting their efforts. The quartet of big men up front allowed no sacks by the Wolfpack -- but gave up seven tackles for loss in return.
The importance of experience upfront cannot be overstated in the ever-changing world of college football. Luckily for UF, that sits as a lone bright spot of the USF offense.
Totaling just 167 yards through the air in week one, scoring zero points and allowing Cade Fortin and Timmy McClain to see significant time under center due to the struggles.
Despite the talent discrepancy between the two teams, USF’s efficiency in pass protection creates a formidable challenge for Florida to test their ability to get after the passer, whether it’s Fortin or McClain.
As a result, the Bulls gives the members of David Turner’s position group another opportunity to find their footing in the 2021 season with the abundance of new faces occupying spots up front, particularly on the interior.
Gators Wide Receivers vs. USF Defensive Backs
Emory Jones will be the focal point of the contest following his shaky first career start for the Gators this past Saturday.
However, his performance will depend upon the weapons at his disposal and their ability to create space and make plays more frequently.
Following significant turnover of pass-catchers in the past few seasons — losing seven total in two years — the Gators wide receiver group expects new faces to emerge to lead the unit.
In game one, windows to find players at the intermediate and deep levels were open on occasions, but the inability for the group as a whole to create space with consistency made Jones’ job much more difficult.
There were evident missteps in how he failed to anticipate throws down the field — getting rid of the ball late — or putting balls behind receivers throughout. Meanwhile, when he did drop back to pass, there was often a lack of options for him to utilize.
As a result, Jones’ top targets will be called upon to do more against a USF secondary that held their own in week one, allowing just 232 passing yards in their 45-0 loss.
Namely, Jacob Copeland — who caught just one ball for 15 yards — Justin Shorter, Ja’Markis Weston and Trent Whittemore will need to assert themselves as reliable options for Florida to make a statement and gain confidence before their biggest test of the year.
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