FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
- Florida Football: 3-2-1
- Defensive tackle commits to Florida
- Mullen Monday: Gators got better last week
- Former Player Feedback: Church’s 10 Observations
- 10 Takeaways: Two programs going in opposite directions
- There's no question, this is Trask's team now
- Recruit Reaction: The atmosphere was amazing
After thumping Tennessee 34-3, the No. 9 Gators have shifted their focus to the Tigers.
No, not the Auburn Tigers next weekend. Or the LSU Tigers the week after that. Instead, the Gators (4-0, 2-0 SEC) play the Towson Tigers (3-1, 1-1 Colonial Athletic Association) at 4 p.m. on Saturday in their final “cupcake game” of the season.
While FCS Towson will walk into the Swamp severely outmatched, they’re ranked No. 10 in the FCS Coaches Poll and feature one of the FCS’s top offenses.
Here are three positions of strength, three positions of weakness and three players to watch for from the Tigers.
Three Positions of Strength
Tom Flacco isn’t merely Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco’s younger brother; he’s a very talented passer in his own right. He’s completed 77 of 134 passes (57.5 percent) for 1,092 yards with six touchdowns and one interception. He’s also the Tigers’ leading rusher with 227 yards and two scores on 34 carries (6.7 yards-per-carry). As a team, Towson is averaging 276 passing yards per game, 28th in the FCS. Behind Flacco’s right arm, the Tigers are tied for ninth in the FCS in scoring offense at 40 points-per-game. He’ll provide a nice final test for the Gators’ three freshmen cornerbacks before they enter the SEC gauntlet.
In order to have one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, your wide receivers must be doing something right. Shane Leatherbury leads the group with 19 catches for 299 yards (15.7 yards-per-reception) and three touchdowns. Darian Street has caught 12 passes for 164 yards and a score, while Caleb Smith has hauled in 10 receptions for 145 yards. Towson runs a pass-heavy offense that spreads the ball around, as 14 different players have recorded a catch, and four players have amassed 140 or more receiving yards.
The Tigers rank fourth in the CAA and 55h in the FCS in passing defense at 218.5 yards-per-game. They’re 18th nationally in passing efficiency defense at 112.28. They’re second in the FCS in takeaways with 12, and five of them have come from the secondary. Coby Tippett has lived up to his last name, intercepting three passes and breaking up another. Terrill Gillette-Rodgers has been a ball hawk at corner, breaking up seven passes already. S.J. Brown mans one of the safety spots and is second on the team with 31 tackles.
Three Positions of Weakness
The Tigers are barely averaging more rushing yards per game than the Gators at 147.8, ninth in the CAA and 63rd in the FCS. They’ve given up six sacks in their first four games, which ranks 10th in their conference. Flacco is a dual-threat quarterback, so having statistics that bad is an indictment on the offensive line. FCS teams are always at a disadvantage at the line of scrimmage when they take on Power Five teams, but this appears to be an even bigger mismatch than usual, as Florida is tied for the national lead with 20 sacks.
As an entire defense, the Tigers are tied for 91st in the FCS with just four sacks. Their defensive line has been even worse than that, as they’ve contributed just two of them. They’re giving up 201.5 rushing yards-per-game, tied for 92nd in the FCS. If UF’s offensive line can’t dominate these guys, they might as well go ahead and cancel the Auburn, LSU and Georgia games for the safety of the Gators’ backfield.
Honestly, it was hard to pick a third position of weakness. Towson seems to be a solid, well-balanced team given their level of competition. The linebackers were the choice simply because of those poor rushing and sacks statistics. That’s partially their fault as well. The Tigers are also averaging just 5.25 tackles-for-loss per game, tied for 77th in the FCS.
Three Players to Watch
Quarterback Tom Flacco
OK, so the only reason you’re going to pay attention to his performance is because of his famous older brother. That’s unfortunate because he’s one of the best FCS players in the country. The redshirt senior played at Western Michigan from 2015-16 before transferring to Rutgers for the 2017 season. He spent just one season with the Scarlett Knights before transferring to Towson. In 2018, he completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 3,251 yards with 28 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He was named to the All-CAA First Team and finished fifth in the voting for the Walter Payton Award, the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. He could put up some decent stats in the second half once UF starts emptying its bench.
Running Back Yeedee Thaenrat
Besides having one of the coolest names of any player the Gators will face this season, Thaenrat possesses an odd stat line. He’s carried the ball 25 times for just 89 yards (3.6 yards-per-carry) yet has scored a whopping eight touchdowns. No, you didn’t read that wrong; he’s really scored on almost a third of his carries this season. It’s safe to assume that he is the Tigers’ go-to running back in goal-line situations.
Linebacker Keon Paye
Paye does it all for the Tigers. As you would expect from a linebacker, he’s third on the team in tackles-for-loss with two. But, he’s also tied for second on the team with three passes broken up and tied for the team lead with three interceptions, rare achievements for a linebacker. He returned his first interception of the season 38 yards for a score against North Carolina Central and followed it up the next week with a 73-yard return against Maine (but no touchdown). He seems to be Towson’s version of Amari Burney.