Florida football score, highlights, takeaways: No. 9 Gators struggle to dominate Towson

By Adam Silverstein
September 28, 2019
Florida football score, highlights, takeaways: No. 9 Gators struggle to dominate Towson

Image Credit: Twitter / GatorsFB

The No. 9 Florida Gators (5-0) were down numerous starters on Saturday afternoon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, but lacking depth does little to explain why Florida struggled so much with the FCS Towson Tigers. The paltry 38-0 defeat may have covered the game’s spread, but it did nothing to make anyone believe the Gators deserve their top-10 billing or can stand up to a team the caliber of next week’s opponent.

Still, Florida’s hobbled defense held yet another opponent scoreless and now leads the FBS nationally in a couple of key categories. Considering the lacking competition it has faced to this point, those platitudes only deserve so much praise. Nevertheless, UF remains one of only a couple top-tier undefeated teams at this point in the season, and that is notable.

What does this victory mean for the Gators going forward? Let’s take a look with some top-line takeaways from the fifth game of the season.

1. The offensive line is a problem: However you slice it, the backbone of Florida’s offense remains a major sore spot. It’s one thing to struggle running the ball against SEC or Power Five opponents, but it’s quite another to get nothing in the running game against an FCS school — even a “ranked” one. The Gators did rush for 5.0 yards per carry, but that stat does not tell the whole story. Outside of sophomore running back Dameon Pierce, who ran off tackle and in space for 84 yards and a touchdown on six carries late in the game, and redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Jones (29-yard rush) … the primary rushing offense was putrid.

It posted 47 yards on 25 touches with senior Lamichal Perine and redshirt sophomore Malik Davis combining for 38 yards on 12 carries. The offensive line got no push. When it came to giving redshirt junior QB Kyle Trask time in the pocket, the unit failed at its charge – unlike last week when it seemed that Trask had decades to throw the ball. Trask appeared to frequently be under pressure and taking unnecessary hits. Considering his propensity for fumbling — he did again, but UF recovered – that’s not good. Especially with No. 7 Auburn coming to Gainesville, Florida next week.

2. The defense looks dominant … but is it? Once the final buzzer sounded Saturday, the Gators defense was able to simultaneously hold two top marks nationally. It is No. 1 in the FBS in both sacks and interceptions. That’s fantastic, particularly considering the unit has been without junior cornerback CJ Henderson, junior safety Shawn Davis, redshirt senior defensive end Jabari Zuniga and a couple of other players — all for multiple games of different durations this season. With the entire defense expected back for next week’s game, the expectation should be that it gets even better.

Here’s the problem. Entering Week 5, the units that Florida has faced have ranked 66th (Miami), 68th (Kentucky) and 102nd (Tennessee) nationally in total offense. (Yes, the Gators have something to do with that.) To say that Auburn, LSU and Georgia — three of UF’s opponents over the next four weeks — are going to present a much more difficult challenge is an understatement.

“We didn’t do a great job of getting off the field in the first half. That’s something that we have to get better at doing,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “We gave up 8-of-15 third-down conversions and didn’t do a great job getting off the field in the first half. They had a good plan and executed. They did a good job of slowing the game down. We wanted to get a lot of plays in and try to play with some tempo but only got 60 plays in.”

Florida had four sacks, eight tackles for loss and two interceptions on Saturday to go along with seven quarterback hurries and five pass breakups. Graduate transfer DE Jonathan Greenard continued to show out with a great tip-drill pick. Special teams also blocked a field goal attempt. But again, here’s the thing: That’s what UF is supposed to do against a team like Towson. The defense also allowed 248 yards and let the Tigers convert 8-of-15 third downs. It’s not supposed to do that.

“We’re certainly going to find out next week, aren’t we?” Mullen said when asked about leveling up. “We’ll see next week. You look at this team, and we’ve taken care of business so far. We have taken care of business. Whatever the situation, good or bad, we have taken care of business so far to this point. We’ve played some good teams, but now it’s going to go to a whole new level. We have a top-10 team coming in here next week. It’s a whole new level.”

3. The young playmakers showed out: Jones did not get to see the field until the fourth quarter, but when he did, he looked great. Completing 6-of-8 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown to go along with his 29-yard rush (that came a half-yard short of the end zone), Jones appeared to be every bit of the player Florida hopes he will become. Then there’s sophomore tight end Kyle Pitts, who did not have a gaudy yardage total but caught two touchdowns from Trask as the duo continues to have tremendous chemistry. Trask was an efficient 18-of-20 passing for 188 yards to go along with his two TD tosses to Pitts, and Pierce’s aforementioned effort on the ground was commendable even if it did come against a worn-down Towson defense.

“Kyle is a tough matchup on people at tight end, and you’re starting to see him really get comfortable within the offense and how he runs routes. He can cause problems,” Mullen said of Pitts. “We try to create matchups across the board. He can cause some of those issues. We’ve done a good job of putting them in position for those plays. I think you see his comfort of really growing as a route runner, being comfortable within the offense, and running his routes. I think you’re just seeing him grow and mature. He has good hands, but most of our guys have big hands. They’re big dudes. He catches the ball really well.”

4. Odds and ends: Florida is 27-1 this century against first-time opponents with 21 straight wins … this was the second time in as many seasons that the Gators played two first-time opponents … UF is 5-0 against ranked FCS teams since 1978 … Florida is 75-9 against nonconference foes in The Swamp since 1990 … the Gators have started a season 5-0 for the first time since 2015 … Florida has won nine straight games for the first time since 2011-12 and done so by a combined 315-83 … the nine wins are the longest active streak in the SEC … UF is outscoring opponents 105-17 in the second half this season … the Gators lead the FBS in sacks (24) and interceptions (nine) … Florida is 12-2 against unranked opponents under Mullen … the Gators are 10-0 when scoring first, 12-0 when leading after the third quarter, 11-0 when allowing 20 points or fewer and 12-0 when outrushing an opponent under Mullen … Florida has scored 24+ points in nine straight games for the first time since doing so in 24 consecutive contests from 2007-09 … UF has scored in 390 consecutive games, an NCAA record

5. What’s next? No. 9 Florida will host No. 7 Auburn, which absolutely dominated Mississippi State and has two wins over ranked opponents, on Saturday in The Swamp. The game will air at 3:30 p.m. ET and be the featured SEC on CBS game for Week 6.

“We have Auburn coming here next week. [We will lose] if we don’t prepare and practice better, if we don’t have a better routine, take care of our bodies, put in a little extra time and do the things we have to do as a football team to get better, if our scout team doesn’t prepare better,” Mullen said. “In every aspect of the game, if we don’t get better this week, we can’t expect to win. That was the focus all week. You’re not going to do this and be a successful team. You have to do this to be a successful team. The focus all week was more about us than the opponent.”

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