Photo: Jacob Copeland; Credit: Alex Shepherd, AllGators.com
The Florida Gators are onto Alabama, set to host the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide this Saturday after beginning their season with comfortable wins over Florida Atlantic and USF.
Entering the biggest game of the year, Florida has awarded players well beyond its starting lineup game reps in order to field its best squad against the Crimson Tide. That has allowed quarterback Anthony Richardson to make a name for himself, the No. 2 cornerback battle to continue playing out, and players in key positions to gain experience in case they are needed moving forward.
You can find our five takeaways from the Gators' 42-20 win over the Bulls below, as they move toward their most important matchup of the 2021 season.
Florida Gators vs. USF Bulls
Jones remains the starter, but Richardson is Florida's clear No. 1 QB
Dan Mullen won't budge when it comes to the quarterback position: Emory Jones is the Gators' starter.
However, it's becoming increasingly clear that Florida's offense is capable of more with Richardson under center.
Jones got off to a much better start against USF than he did versus FAU a week ago, completing 9-of-12 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown while rushing for another 43 yards and adding a score on the ground. Keep in mind, he threw for 113 yards in total against the Owls.
However, Jones looked like a different quarterback in the second half, going 5-of-10 for 37 yards and throwing two interceptions, failing to identify a lurking defender each time. Jones also tossed a couple of low-percentage throws on a late drive near the goal line that went incomplete, leading to a turnover on downs.
Richardson, meanwhile, made something out of every play he was involved in, literally. The redshirt freshman threw three passes on the day - one in the first quarter, one in the second, and one in the fourth - and each was completed for at least a 36 yard gain, including touchdown throws of 75 and 41 yards apiece. Richardson also rushed four times for 115 yards, including an 80-yard score (which he hurt his hamstring on) and a shortest rush of eight yards.
Richardson became the first FBS quarterback in the past 25 years to post 100+ rushing yards, 150+ passing yards and a completion percentage of 100% in a game against the Bulls.
All eyes will be on Richardson and his injury status this week before the Crimson Tide enters The Swamp on Saturday. Although Jones is going to start regardless of Richardson's health, it's clear that the Gators will need their No. 2 quarterback in order to stand a chance.
Jacob Copeland has a breakout game
Saturday's contest featured the breakout game from wide receiver Jacob Copeland that Gators fans have waited for since his arrival on campus in 2018.
A week removed from a one-catch-for-15-yards showing, Copeland averaged an incredible 35 yards per reception across five catches on Saturday, tallying 175 yards and two touchdowns on the day. He caught passes for explosive gains of 75, 41, and 36 yards throughout the game - all from Richardson - and is now one score removed from his season-high of three set in 2020, with 10 games to go in the regular season.
After the Gators lost star pass-catchers Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney as well as Trevon Grimes this offseason, one of the biggest questions UF faced centered around the wide receiver positions as onlookers wondered who could fill in for those three contributors. Florida has options, as Xzavier Henderson has impressed and Rick Wells has taken a step forward, but Copeland appears to be the Gators' big-play threat at receiver, and he has undeniable chemistry with Richardson.
Zachary Carter makes a big impact in front of his home crowd
Florida's defense, for the most part, looked pretty good against USF until backups began to filter in regularly in the second half - when UF gave up 20 points. However, when he was on the field, Zachary Carter once again made his presence felt in a big way.
After earning co-SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for his three-sack performance versus FAU, Carter once again made a big impact in the backfield against USF, tallying 2.5 tackles for loss on the day and three tackles in total.
He did it in front of a home crowd, as well, as Carter hails from the Tampa area and went to high school at Hillsborough.
Through two games, Carter has proven himself as one of if not Florida's most impactful defenders, with three sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and seven total tackles to his name already. He's also pressured the quarterback five times, per Pro Football Focus.
The Gators own an electric rushing offense
Florida has posted 763 rushing yards in total to begin the 2021 season. That's the most the Gators have rushed for in the first two games of the year since 1996.
A week removed from rushing for 400 yards, the most in a season-opener in UF history, the Gators approached the 400-mark once again with a 363-yard outing on Saturday. Richardson led the way with his 115 yards on four attempts, but he was far from the only contributor. Jones added 81 yards and a score on 13 rushes, Dameon Pierce wowed onlookers to begin the game by rushing for 11 yards on average across five carries, producing a touchdown as well.
Nay'Quan Wright was Florida's primary back as the game went on, and he was productive as well, averaging 5.1 yards per carry on seven attempts. Lorenzo Lingard and Demarkcus Bowman earned rushes later in the contest, and combined for 54 yards on eight attempts.
Malik Davis didn't do very much, going for 22 yards on seven carries, but he proved what he could do a week ago with 104 yards and a touchdown on 14 rushes.
With two mobile quarterbacks leading the offense and a deep running back room, Florida's rushing offense is both versatile and unpredictable. A year after owning one of if not the best passing offenses in college football, Florida has quickly flipped the switch and now boasts a dominant rushing attack that could pose a threat against anyone.
Jeremiah Moon is taking advantage of his final opportunity
Two games into the 2021 season, one of Florida'sbiggest surprises has been the re-emergence of sixth-year linebacker Jeremiah Moon. Moon missed the majority of the 2020 season with a foot injury and had yet to break out as a full-time contributor to that point, but he certainly is now after returning to full health.
Moon has taken on a new position this year, aligning at times at inside linebacker in addition to his typical BUCK rush end spot. Against USF, Moon put together five tackles and recorded Florida's only sack of the day, coming on a first-quarter third down. He also applied crucial pressure on a play that ended in an interception by Gators cornerback Kaiir Elam. Moon is Florida's leading tackler through two games as well, with 11.
Moon has impressively filled gaps against the run from the inside linebacker position to begin the year, which has led to either tackles of his own or short gains where the running back is swallowed up by a teammate.
You won't often see a player breakout for his team in his sixth season with the program, as besides this year, sixth-year seniors aren't all that common in college football. However, Moon is quickly emerging as a sixth-year standout, finding comfort at a new position and creating big-time plays for the Gators' defense.
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