Game day: Florida Gators at South Florida Bulls Preview

Florida Gators
Emory Jones tosses a screen pass during the 35-14 victory over the Florida Atlantic Owls. (Photograph by Dustin Smith)

Gameday is once again upon us! This time, the Florida Gators will face the South Florida Bulls in a quasi-road game where the stands promise to feature as much orange and blue as green and gold- if not more.

Amidst what some people deem to be a quarterback controversy between Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson, and concerns over the pass efficiency in the revised 2021 Gator offense, the Florida Gators will play on the road, against the South Florida Bulls, a team that went 1-8 in an abbreviated 2020 season and is 5-23 in their last 28 games. Kickoff is set for 1:00 pm in Tampa, at the Buccaneers’ home of Raymond James Stadium.

Let’s dive into a breakdown of everything you need to know, going into today’s matchup.

Key Storylines

The South Florida Bulls have been abysmal over the last 10 games. Their last victory came literally one year ago, on September 12th, 2020 in a 27-6 defeat of the Citadel. Just last week, South Florida was bludgeoned by mediocre NC State in a 45-0 shutout. Put it this way— USF looked like a team that Bishop Sycamore could give a run for their money in that game. In other words, this South Florida team is bad.

By far the biggest storyline from the USF side will be whether they can bounce back from the NC State defeat in any manner. Even if USF doesn’t win, they at least hope to keep it respectable. The closest thing to a bright spot that the Bulls had in their opener was the fact that WR Xavier Weaver had a pair of catches for 73 yards. In an offense that looked inept the whole game, Weaver at least made explosive plays. So he is someone that the Florida secondary should keep tabs on. That is, if South Florida can pass block for enough time before the likes of Zach Carter or Khris Bogle get into the backfield.

On the Florida side of things, the biggest storyline continues to be the quarterback battle between Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson. Though Dan Mullen has made clear that Emory is the starter, there’s not exactly a complete lack of doubt that he can get the job done. In my admittedly cursory film study of each offensive play (I had a LONG week), it seemed pretty apparent that Emory locked on certain reads and did not throw receivers open routinely. On top of that, the two interceptions that Emory threw were unacceptable- and there was a third ball he threw that probably should have been picked off and taken back for six. He needs to improve drastically in this game, or we will truly be in for a long season if Mullen does not make the change.

Emory’s mistakes against FAU aren’t even the main reason fans are clamoring for backup quarterback Anthony Richardson to take over. Richardson might just be the most explosive player in the SEC East. He had 7 carries for a whopping 160 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown run and an ESPN Top 10 worthy play in which he made several FAU players miss in spectacular fashion followed by an epic hurdle of one of the FAU defensive backs.

Though Anthony did not have the best night passing either, he did enough in both the pass and run game to really make a case for himself as the starter. Still, it has been well documented that Mullen is very loyal to starters, especially when it comes to his quarterback. Which quarterback shines? Does Emory bounce back and prove to the world why he is the starting quarterback at the University of Florida, or does Anthony Richardson solidify the need to make a change at quarterback?

In an otherwise uninteresting matchup, this quarterback battle brings intrigue, even at the national level, as the nation awaits the monumental week three matchup between #1 Alabama Crimson Tide, and potentially a top ten ranked Florida Gators team.

Key Matchup

The key matchup this game, to me, will be the offensive line of the Bulls vs. the front seven of the Gators.

USF did run for 104 yards against NC State, and for them to have any shot to keep it close, they will need to slow the game down through the run game and chewing up the clock. Though USF did not score against NC State, they actually somehow won the time of possession statistic. USF will try to slow down the game and try to keep the Florida offense off the field.

Still, the Gators’ front seven will be too much for USF’s offensive line. I expect Zach Carter and Gervon Dexter to have themselves a game and prove to the state of Florida why Florida is the dominant team in the sunshine state.

Players to Watch

Emory Jones, QB – All eyes will be on Emory. It once again his turn, his time, his team. He has every opportunity to bounce back and show the nation why he was Dan Mullen’s first QB commit when hired back in December of 2017. If Emory can have an efficient day passing with over 250 yards through the air, as well as over 100 yards on the ground and 5+ touchdowns, then he will most certainly stifle any controversy. However, if Richardson shines, and Emory struggles, we may have a new starter next week against SEC juggernaut, Alabama.

Zachary Carter, DE – The senior monster at the defensive end position has come into the 2021 season with a massive chip on his shoulder and something to prove. As a Tampa native, playing in his hometown NFL stadium, I look for him to have a big day. He very well could have himself another 3 sack performance against USF to match his 3 sack game last week. If so, he would be on pace to break the all-time single-season sack record at the University of Florida, currently held by Alex Brown (13 sacks). Definitely look for Carter to play lights out and continue to show why some believe he is the best defensive end in America.

What Must Happen for the Florida Gators to Win

According to the ESPN FPI, Florida has a 95.5% chance to win the game. The pregame spread sits at Florida -28.5, meaning the oddsmakers expect the Gators to win by four touchdowns.

So assuming we don’t witness a mid-afternoon nap by the Gators, Florida should convincingly defeat South Florida. And not just defeat them convincingly, but defeat them in a fashion that gives the Gator Nation faithful hope that last week’s ho-hum performance was just an aberration, and this will be yet another year that Dan Mullen and company will have the Florida Gators in contention for the SEC and College Football Playoff.

Needless to say, just like last week, 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 and show massive improvement, going into the biggest regular-season matchup of Dan Mullen’s head coaching career at the University of Florida.

What Must Happen for South Florida to Win

For USF to win, as mentioned earlier, the Gators would need to have a collapse of catastrophic proportions. It would literally take a turnover ratio that is +5 or greater in favor of USF, and for several blown coverages on the part of the Florida secondary for this game to even come within single digits.

That’s it. That’s South Florida’s lone path to victory. There’s a reason the Gators are four-touchdown favorites.

Final Analysis

The Florida Gators should have a great game against USF.

Though technically a road matchup, I think most people expect the stadium to actually have more Gator fans than South Florida Bull fans, and the Gators will feed off that. Florida will prove to be too explosive and too fast for USF to contain. I look for Emory Jones to have a much better showing against the Bulls, however, I also look to see Anthony Richardson keep it interesting in terms of the quarterback battle. Malik Davis will also continue in stride with his 104 yards, 14 carry game last week, versus FAU. One final note— look for Jacob Copeland to have a monumental day catching the ball. He has earned the reps and he will be ready to go.

Projection: 52-7 Florida

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