After a week 1 win over UMass and a week 2 roll over Kentucky, Florida’s own mighty Gators had a night test in “The Swamp.”
North Texas came to town with a 1-1 record, but not expected to do much damage to Jim McElwain’s team. Analysts thought the Gators could have had a more convincing win over UMass in week 1, but their 45-7 W over Kentucky proved doubters wrong.
Yet here were the Gators, half way through the second quarter, repeating unpleasant history and having flashes of last season. They held a 12-0 lead, but the offense struggled. Florida’s offense has been sub-par since Urban Meyer packed up his bags, it feels like. An early sack from Caleb Brantley ended up in a safety and a field goal later it was 5-0. But the offense had yet to show up. Jordan Cronkrite and Lamical Perine each had a score in the second quarter to allow the Gators to head into the locker room with a comfortbale 19-0 lead.
But just how comfortable was that lead? Against any SEC team that’s a convincing halftime lead, but this was North Texas visiting “The Swamp.” This same storyline has plagued the Gators for years now- simply being “good enough,” but not great. In many people’s eyes, this game should have been an automatic win since the opening kickoff. And although the Gators went on to win, this is something Coach McElwain should be concerned about.
A 3-0 record is something to proud of, but what happens when the powerhouses come to town, a matchup against Tennessee is just a week away. Can the offensive line and running backs be just as effective? Can the defense be just as tough? Will the Gators’ quarterback play get to that next level? Many people think not.
The passing game, like the offense, is lacking a spark. Transfer quarterback Luke Del Rio has commanded the team well in the first three games, but many wonder if he’s the man for the job to beat the Tennessee’s and the Georgia’s of the world. He was 14/25 with 186 yards and an interception when he went down in the third quarter on Saturday.
It was a roughing the passer penalty that resulted in uproar that sent Del Rio to the locker room with a left knee injury. When North Texas defender Joshua Wheeler hit Del Rio late and low, not just Jim McElwain, but the whole stadium, was livid.
McElwain had to be restrained by players and referees, as he thought the play was intentional. McElwain said after the game, “I was just trying to protect one of my guys, I know their guy was trying to play hard… that’s just one of those deals that happens.”
Both sidelines nearly got into it at midfield when players joined McElwain in jawing at the Mean Green of North Texas, and North Texas reacted accordingly.
Del Rio isn’t expected to play next week against Tennessee with an unrevealed knee injury. Meanwhile, his backup, Austin Appleby, is another transfer who will be trusted from here on out. He went just 2/4 with 30 yards to finish this game off but will likely throw the ball more down the stretch. Del Rio’s timetable is unclear at the moment.
HOWEVER, one aspect of the offense did shine tonight just as much as it shined in week 1 and 2- the ground game. Florida’s arsenal of backs was too much for North Texas, and they scored all the touchdowns for the Gators in this one. Mark Thompson, Lamical Perine, Jordan Cronkrite, and Jordan Scarlett combined for 250 yards and each had a score in the 32-0 win.
The defense shined once again, as well, allowing just 66 yards of offense from the Mean Green and holding them to -13 rushing yards. The Gator “D” had a safety and an interception and proves to be one of the top defenses in the country year in and year out.
Prediction for Week 4, Florida @ Tennessee: The College Gameday site for next week, this SEC East matchup will be a deciding factor when crowning the 2016 SEC champion. Both teams will land in Knoxville with a 3-0 record, and both teams have a lot to prove. Tennessee narrowly beat Appalachian State in week 1, and they’re still looking to avenge that- a win over an SEC rival will move them up in the rankings once again. Florida hasn’t suffered a scare thus far, but the loss of their head honcho will force them to find other ways to create offense. The Gator defense will be strong again, but will they be strong enough to stop the arm and legs of Joshua Dobbs? Not this time.
Final: FLA 13 TENN 25