Florida Football Friday Final: No. 13 Gators enter Week 2 with questions to answer at South Florida

By Adam Silverstein
September 10, 2021
Florida Football Friday Final: No. 13 Gators enter Week 2 with questions to answer at South Florida
Football

Image Credit: Courtney Culbreath / UAA

When a top 25 SEC team wins its opening week game by three touchdowns, the atmosphere surrounding the program entering Week 2 should be one of positivity. That’s now how things generally work for the Florida Gators. As No. 13 Florida gears up for its neutral-site (technically, road) showdown with the South Florida Bulls down the road in Tampa, the Gators are still hoping to find themselves.

There were issues on both sides of the ball last Saturday. And when a team like Florida struggles to score when it counts while simultaneously failing to consistently contain a team like the FAU at home in front of a packed crowd, questions will be abound.

So as UF and USF prepare to lock horns Saturday at 1 p.m. ET inside Raymond James Stadium, let’s take a look at the questions that remain unanswered with the SEC schedule and No. 1 Alabama creeping up.

1. Who is the starting quarterback (in Week 3)? You knew this would lead us off. Despite proclamations otherwise, head coach Dan Mullen is smack in the middle of a quarterback battle. Sure, redshirt junior Emory Jones is going to start against South Florida. Sure, redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson also struggled throwing the ball last week vs. FAU. But there’s no denying the dynamic element Richardson brought to that game lit up the field, the crowd and the scoreboard.

Mullen said Jones and Richardson played similarly last week, though Richardson technically graded out higher due to his explosive plays. He noted that both players made physical and mental mistakes in the game, specifically explaining that each of Richardson’s spectacular plays were negatively balanced by him missing simple checks because he does not yet know the intricacies of the offense.

“There’s always enthusiasm for everybody,” said Mullen, clearly alluding to the expression that the backup quarterback is usually the most popular guy in the stadium. “I was here in 2006. There was huge enthusiasm for Tim Tebow, and he played 6-7 plays a game.”

(Tebow — a Heisman Trophy winner, three-time finalist and two-time national champion — may not be the best comparison to use if you’re trying to tamp down expectations for Richardson.)

As it stands, Florida enters Week 2 with a question that was thought to be resolved the second Kyle Trask formally declared for the NFL Draft. After largely sitting on the bench and/or seeing spot action for three years, this was supposed to be Jones’ time. One more effort like he had against FAU and/or one more incredible display from Richardson, and that time may run out far sooner than either party expected.

2. Will red zone scoring improve? Chief among the issues with Jones’ performance last week was the Gators’ red zone struggles. Florida did convert four times in the red zone — three on the ground — but also missed two opportunities to score as Jones first threw an interception then later misunderstood the situation on fourth down. Those growing pains are OK when you’re dominating FAU; they become a problem when you get far more limited scoring opportunities against programs like Alabama.

The Gators this week can show that their miscues last week were a temporary blip and not a continuing blemish on the offense as a whole. Florida in Week 1 posted a record for most yards rushing (400) and found the second-fewest yards passing (153) since Mullen took. It may not need a much more balanced offense this week against South Florida, but again, it will once it enters SEC play.

3. Will the defense stay strong through four quarters? The Gators defense, particularly up front, saw much more success against the Owls than it did throughout most of last season. The Bulls present a similar opportunity to coalesce, improve, correct mistakes and prepare for tougher upcoming competition. Florida shut FAU out for three quarters last week until allowing two scoring drives of a combined 143 yards in the final 8 minutes last week. Will it step up and play a full 60 minutes against USF (even if it does not result in a shutout)?

With junior cornerback Kaiir Elam dominating last week while standing tall as the most consistent member of Florida’s secondary, it will be incumbent upon redshirt freshman Avery Helm to show improvement on the opposite side of the field. The Gators must also get better play from their safeties and linebackers to match the tremendous pressure the front seven got throughout the last game as it was largely responsible for the team’s six sacks. Redshirt senior LB Jeremiah Moon, playing in his school-record sixth season, has an opportunity to lead that effort.

Also notable was Florida’s struggles getting off the field on third down … due to penalties. Against a South Florida team that got routed 45-0 in its season opener against NC State, there is no excuse to not see even better play from the defense while simultaneously cutting down on miscues.

4. Random game note: Checking schedules back to 1911, this is the first time in history that the Gators will play two teams from the state of Florida in their first two games of the season. UF did face Miami and Florida A&M consecutively in 2003, but those games occurred in Weeks 2-3. The Gators are 8-0 all-time against in-state opponents other than Miami and Florida State.

OnlyGators.com will have a complete Florida vs. South Florida game day preview with game notes, predictions, picks and much more shortly after midnight ET. Stay tuned.

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