Despite a near third-quarter comeback, Florida dropped another SEC contest, this time to No. 1 Georgia by a score of 42-20, their second-straight loss to the Bulldogs. After the loss, Florida sits at 1-4 in SEC play, their worst start in conference play since 1979.
Here are three observations, two questions, and one prediction about the Gators based on last weekend’s loss to Georgia as the team heads into a matchup on the road with Texas A&M.
- There are two contributors under Dan Mullen that have fallen completely out of the rotation. After beginning the season as the starting running back, Nay’Quan Wright hasn’t seen the field, totaling zero snaps the last two games, despite not being listed on the injury report, while still dressing out. Wide receiver Trent Whittemore is in the same category. There were no surprises that he was a backup to start the season, but the fact that he hasn’t seen the field nearly as often as in previous seasons has been a surprise, considering his ability to get open and make acrobatic catches. After back-to-back games with zero snaps for both players, and no indication of them being injured, it appears that the two are no longer contributors for the offense.
- Level of talent and coaching experience won on Saturday. Billy Napier wasn’t entirely wrong when he said that what truly mattered was execution, not level of talent. However, you cannot ignore the differences in both talent and coaching experience between the two programs. Since 2017, Kirby Smart’s first full class at Georgia, the Bulldogs have brought in 27 five-stars. Florida, on the other hand, only has two. I wrote in another 3-2-1 that Napier and his staff would experience their own growing pains as coaches in year one, and that was evident on Saturday with questionable play calls on third down. As much as execution hurt Florida, the talent level on roster and coaching experience between the two teams showed up on the scoreboard.
- The record may be the same, but the 2022 Florida Gators are completely opposite of the 2021 Florida Gators. At this time last season, the Gators were sitting a 4-4 after losses to LSU and Georgia, out of contention for any title and questions regarding Florida making a bowl game. That being said, this team showed something the last two games not seen last season: a will to fight for four quarters. Despite being down 42-21 in the third quarter against LSU, Florida chomped its way back, and a questionable roughing the passer call on a Jason Marshall Jr. interception changed the trajectory of the game. Despite being down 28-3 at halftime on Saturday, Florida found rare third-quarter success behind two Amari Burney takeaways and a 17-0 run to make it a one-score game. In 2021, Florida showed this fight against lowly FCS Samford, but not against SEC rivals. Losses hurt, but there is a change of energy in the program.
- When will there be depth chart changes on defense? There were more bright spots combined with the usual mistakes for the defense on Saturday. Intercepting Stetson Bennett IV twice on Saturday was something that hadn’t happened this season until Jadarrius Perkins and Amari Burney did so. Add in a fumble recovery in the third quarter. However, there were still plenty of tackling and coverage issues throughout the game. Rashad Torrence II struggled after dropping an interception and missing multiple tackles, Tre’Vez Johnson was burned in coverage multiple times and the defensive line failed to get much of a push. Understand that it was the No. 1 team Florida played, but these are issues that have been plaguing them all season. The Gators’ defense may benefit from giving guys like Perkins, Kamari Wilson or Chris McClellan, all of whom have played well this season, more playing time.
- Does special teams finally have a pulse? There’s no question that special teams hasn’t been great for the Gators despite a level of importance placed on it by the staff. Between inconsistent kicks from Adam Mihalek, abysmal returns and costly penalties on returns and some struggles in coverage, Florida simply hasn’t been good in the game-changing side of the ball. Saturday provided a slight glimmer of hope. Mihalek made both of his field goal attempts, including one from 52 yards. Florida’s kickoff unit held Georgia to an average of 15 yards per return, and Trevor Etienne had a nice 33-yard return on a kickoff. They did have two blocks in the back penalties, one on a kickoff and one on a punt return, so there’s still plenty of work to be done, but a consistent game like the one on Saturday could be a turning point.
- Florida beats Texas A&M for the first time since topping the Aggies 20-17 back during the 2012 season. Florida has played A&M three times going 1-2. All three contests have been close, two were three-point games and one was a two-point Texas A&M win. Add in the argument that Texas A&M is in a worse spot than Florida with a 3-5 record after starting the season at No. 6 in Jimbo Fisher’s fifth season. It should be a close one, but the Gators should be able to pull it out in College Station.