Grading the Gators: An all-around failure

by Mark Wheeler

Inside the Gators takes a look back on the Florida-Utah game and hands out positional grades based on the performance of UF’s players and coaches, by the numbers, hot and not, and the bottom line.

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QBOverall Graham Mertz played well and is in no way responsible for the loss. However, I would pump the brakes on any talk that he was anything more than slightly above average – while keeping in mind that his offensive line did him no favors.
His stat line (31-of-44 for 333 yards) looked great, but that doesn’t always tell the complete story.
As I tweeted to start the fourth quarter: Mertz is going to have a hell of a stat line, because Utah is going to give up these little dink and dunk passes for the rest of the night.
And that is exactly what happened, as he was 14-of-18 for 105 yards in UF’s final two drives, but only one completed pass traveled over 15 yards through the air as Utah gave Florida everything underneath.
Even the play of the night, the 40-yard completion to Ricky Pearsall, was poorly thrown, short and to the inside when it should have been for a touchdown.
It was a good first step, but I wouldn’t be the one leading the parade celebrating him as being upper-tier just yet.
RBIf you didn’t watch the game and pulled up the box score this morning you would think there was a misprint in seeing Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson Jr. combine for just 10 carries for 31 yards on the night. How do you grade that lack of production due to lack of touches? I can’t. INC
WRThe most pleasant surprise of the night was the mixture of old and new taking turns stepping to the forefront. With Pearsall, Marcus Burke, Caleb Douglas, Kehleil Jackson, and Eugene Wilson, Florida currently has as strong a receiver rotation as they’ve had in years. Douglas, whose hands were suspect at times last year, really impressed. As did Wilson, who effortlessly makes it look like he could have taken any touch to the house.B
TEJonathan Odom started to come on at the end of last year, and while he still looks a little limited, he had his best game as a Gator. The biggest question is, where was Arlis Boardingham? You have to wonder what happens if that fourth and three shovel pass goes to him instead of Dante Zanders.C
OLAfter they struggled during the fall camp’s lone full open practice I asked if the defensive line was that good or the offensive line that bad. Watching the opener, it’s easy to see that it is more of the latter. Yes, I realize that Florida was without Kingsley Eguakun, but Utah was without three defensive line starters, including likely first or second-round pick Junior Tafuna, and still ate UF’s lunch recording five sacks and shutting down the run game. D-
DLI spend 90% of my college football-watching time concentrated on Florida and their recent or upcoming opponent. I have tunnel vision that way, so maybe I don’t always get a great picture of how the Gators compare to others because I am so focused on just UF. To me, I thought Florida’s line was going to be a strong point of the team, They are deeper, bigger, and in my mind, seeing them feel, or maybe felt, like they moved well for their size. To hear Chris Fowler comment that they are big, but don’t move well, sort of threw me off. Maybe I am completely wrong about the group. It was a disappointing outing for Princely Umanmielen, Camron Jackson, and Caleb Banks. Tyreak Sapp and TJ Searcy (a big surprise) played well.C-
LBFlorida has completely rebuilt their linebacker corps and the early results look promising. Shemar James is going to get the kudos this week, and rightfully so, but the entire unit played well. I didn’t see a missed tackle from the group and unlike years past, they weren’t exposed in coverage. Keep in mind though that Utah was without tight end Brant Kuithe.B+
DBThere was the first play disaster, but then they settled in a bit. It’s difficult to judge their performance without taking into consideration that Utah’s third and fourth string quarterbacks went 18-of-22 against them and Utah only attempted four passes the rest of the game after going up 24-3 with just over 11 minutes remaining in the third quarterC
STNothing to see here, it was just another disastrous performance from the so-called ‘Game Changers’ and the sad part is, what is going to change? This is a unit that has a scholarship player (Trey Smack), who can’t beat out a walk-on (Adam Mihalek), who isn’t capable of making a chip shot 31-yard field goal. I know that sounds harsh, but isn’t falseF
COMy overreaction on the Orange & Blue Board is that 14 games into the Billy Napier era, the biggest obstacle Florida faces is overcoming Napier’s deficiencies on game day. Listen, Napier has forgotten more about football than you or I will ever know. That is the case with every head coach. However, to this point, he has been subpar as a play caller, and clock manager. Period. If UF doesn’t improve on those two aspects, it won’t matter how successful they are in recruitingF


The five most memorable performances

  1. Shemar James – He was the only difference maker on defense, with double-digit tackles
  2. Graham Mertz – Yes, Utah conceded many of those underneath completions because they were up big, but still, it was a career-day passing and he deserves credit for it
  3. Eugene Wilson – Wilson is young, and will make some mistakes along the way (see below), but he replaces Anthony Richardson as the Gator most likely to make a big play at any time
  4. Marcus Burke – He had the two big catches early and then he didn’t have a pass thrown his way until the fourth quarter
  5. Austin Barber – I’d like to know how the linemen graded out. For his first game as a left tackle, I thought he was probably the top performer along the offensive line. None of the five sacks were recorded against him

The five most forgettable performances

  1. Special Teams – What can be said at this point? 14 games of continued failures has to be enough – doesn’t it?
  2. Billy Napier – Last year many placed the team’s struggles at Dan Mullen‘s doorstep, and some of that was warranted. Napier though has to own Thursday’s disaster
  3. Damieon George Jr.Our Insider told us back in the spring that he struggles pass blocking – and it turned out that he was correct
  4. Princely Umanmeilen – Call me crazy, but I thought, and still think, this is going to be his year. However, the Jack needs to be Florida’s playmaker along the front four, but he contributed 0 tackles, 0 sacks, and almost 0 pressure on Thursday night
  5. Eugene Wilson – As a true freshman you can excuse the first time he fielded a punt inside the five, but the second one, fielding the punt while running toward the endzone, is inexcusable. Take the ball at the 25 the next time


0 – Florida’s revamped defensive line, the one we (myself included) have hyped all offseason, didn’t record a sack and was only credited with two quarterback pressures.

1 – Florida put up a big fat 0 on their first nine attempts and ended up converting only 1-of-13 on third down.

3 – If we weren’t so distracted by how bad Florida was on third down, we would be celebrating the fact that for the first time in forever, the Gators were able to get the opposing team off the field on third down. Utah was held to 3-of-13 on third down, and going strictly off of memory, I only remember one terrible conversion, something like a third and 10.

7Billy Napier falls to 1-6 facing AP Top 25 teams as Florida’s head coach.

9 – You won’t knock off too many Top 25 programs on the road when you commit nine penalties, most seemingly at the most inopportune times.

14 – Over half of Florida’s Class of 2023 signees played in the game.

70 – Yes the overwhelming majority were dink and dunk passes, but still, a 70% completion percentage is something to celebrate no matter how it occurred.


The penalty for having Eugene Wilson and Jason Marshall Jr. on the field at the same time did result in a 14-3 lead, but it was early enough that Florida had time to overcome that miscue. It stands out as a defining moment because you have to ask with that many support staff members, how does it even happen? My guess is that Wilson went through fall camp wearing #21 – so they practiced day after day with both of them on the field, and then after he changed numbers right before the season, it somehow got lost in the shuffle.


14 games in and we’re in a position where we can start to draw conclusions on where Florida currently stands and is headed under Billy Napier. I don’t know if the Gators could have hired anyone better to get the program back on track six days of the week, but there are still plenty of concerns about him as a game-day coach – especially serving as his own offensive coordinator. That isn’t just based on play calling, but some of the clock management is atrocious. There were times Thursday night, down by two scores with under five minutes remaining when UF continuously snapped the ball with under 15 seconds on the play clock, once, with just seven seconds remaining. There has to be more of a sense of urgency, and that needs to come from the sidelines. That isn’t a one-game issue. This happened last year as well. Those concerns won’t be put to ease by anything that happens this coming weekend against McNeese State, but it’s not too much to ask for some improvement against a quality opponent like Tennessee in two weeks. If we see more of the same, it’s going to be a long season.

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  1. You have TE twice but no DL.

    I have to agree with the rest.

    This is the first time I\'ve really questioned if Napier is going to be able to get it done here.

    To me this way worse than losing to Vanderbilt because he\'s had enough time to get all this stuff right and it\'s the same thing over and over with him.
  2. Wilson making the same mistake twice in one game has to make you think he has the coaches approval to do so. Otherwise nobody told him not to do it a second time?

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