Game day: Florida Gators vs. Florida Atlantic Owls Preview

Florida Gators

Alas, we have reached game day for the Florida Gators.

It is finally here! Enough of the talk. Enough of the pre-season predictions. For the first time since last December, we have a game to talk about today.

Tonight at 7:30 PM, the Swamp will have 80,000+ for the first time since November of 2019 as the Gator faithful cheer on the home team- decked out in white for the first time at home since 2001. Like that day in 2001, Florida will be doing so against a team from a non Power Five conference- this time doing battle with Conference USA opponent, Florida Atlantic, a team that went 5-4 in an abbreviated 2020 season. Let’s dive into a breakdown of everything you need to know, going into tonight’s game. 

Key Storylines

Willie Taggart, former FSU, and current FAU head coach will finally coach a game in Gainesville. In Taggart’s two years at FSU, the embattled coach only coached against Florida once— a 41-14 defeat in Doak Campbell Stadium in 2018. The 2019 meeting in the swamp was coached by interim coach Odell Haggins after Taggart was fired mid-season.

Taggart looks to bring his “lethal simplicity” brand of offense to Gainesville alongside his new Offensive Coordinator, Mike Johnson. FAU Quarterback and Ocala native, N’Kosi Perry will get the start for FAU as he looks to take on the team less than an hour up the road from his hometown. Perry was on the sidelines for the Miami Hurricanes for the 2019 Camping World Kickoff game against Florida, but did not play.

On the Gators side of things, the team looks to bounce back after three straight losses to end the 2020 season, including Dan Mullen’s first bowl loss as the Gators head coach, a 55-20 defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma Sooners. But enough about that. The day has finally come to alleviate the sour taste from that disgusting performance, and for quarterback Emory Jones, the day has come to finally take the reins of the Florida offense.

Key Matchup

We all know the Gator Nation will have eyes on the offensive side of the ball, as we look to see an offense finally fully tailored to Mullen’s scheme, one year removed from Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts, and Kadarius Toney completely lighting up the field. However, the key matchup will be this Gator secondary vs. N’Kosi Perry. If Perry can find passing lanes and be accurate, then it may be another long and nail-biting night for the Gator faithful. However, if Kaiir Elam and Trey Dean, along with newcomer Avery Helm can step up, and cover FAU’s receivers, this will most definitely be a good night for the “good guys” as we like to say.

Players to Watch

Emory Jones – The time has finally come. Emory’s debut as the Florida Gators’ starting quarterback is here. And after nearly four full years of waiting, I look to see Emory step up in a big way against FAU. There is no doubt that he can make plays with his feet, but can he be consistently accurate throughout the night? This will go a long way in determining whether this will be a good season for Jones, or if it will be elite.

Avery Helm – The sophomore corner will also be getting his first career start, according to the depth chart released to the media earlier in the week. He will start across the field from Kaiir Elam, a first-team All-SEC player. While Avery doesn’t need to live up to the hype of Elam, we still need to see him step up and make big plays. This defense lives and dies at the hands of the secondary, and no player is more critical to its success arguably than the corner that stands across the field from Elam. Tonight —that player looks to be Avery Helm.

What Must Happen for Florida to Win

According to the ESPN FPI, Florida has a 94.2% chance to win the game. So assuming we don’t witness a cataclysmic meltdown by the Gators, this team should handily defeat Florida Atlantic- and defeat them in a fashion that has Gator fans relaxed by the end of the third quarter. A “win” from our perspective is not only that Florida gets the “W” on the scoreboard, but also that Florida can win to such a degree that young guys get a ton of experience and escape with no major injuries.

What Must Happen for Florida Atlantic to Win

For FAU to win, as mentioned earlier, the Gators would need to have a meltdown of cataclysmic proportions. Even still, has Florida only winning by 8 points in a true worst-case scenario. This is just a one-score game, so in theory the upset is possible. But how would this happen? The turnover ratio would have to be +4 or greater in favor of FAU, and N’Kosi Perry would need to have the best game thus far of his career.

Final Analysis

A (hopefully) revamped and reinvigorated Florida team will be too much for Florida Atlantic. While I expect a slow start on offense for the Gators, I look to see an explosive run from Emory Jones or Nay’Quan Wright be the needed spark to initiate a rout by the Gators of FAU, and handing Willie Taggart yet another defeat from the Florida Gators.

Projection: 44-13 Florida

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