Underdog, the unranked Gators team seeks an upset at No. 14 Utah

Florida heads west for the second straight game. This time, the Gators, led by head coach Billy Napier, are aiming to come back victorious and maintain their dignity.

A lot has changed with Thursday night’s 14th visit to Utah since UF didn’t show up during a 30-3 loss to Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

The 2022 Gators didn’t deal with the distractions of Sin City while playing the series through the 6-7 season. Expect an increased sense of urgency at Salt Lake City with a retooled and tight-knit squad that includes 15 freshmen, over forty newcomers and first-year defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong.

Florida head coach Billy Napier directs his players on Aug. 5 during a Gators practice at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville.  (Willie G Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel)
Florida head coach Billy Napier directs his players on Aug. 5 during the Gators practice at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. (Willie G Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel)

When I walk into the dressing room, it’s like a completely different team. Veteran rusher Brinsley O’Manmelin He said early fall camp. “The difference between this year and the other years I’ve been here is that we are more together.”

The Gators’ mettle will be tested by the Utes, two-time Pac-12 champions, during UF’s first non-conference road opener since a 31-4 loss in 1987 in Miami.

“It’s exciting,” Ohio State linebacker Teradja Mitchell He said. “It’s been a long break. It’s finally time to face another team. We can’t wait.”

Florida coach Billy Napier, left, and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, right, shake hands before the Gators' 29-26 victory over the #7 Utes on September 3, 2022, in Gainesville.  (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Florida coach Billy Napier, left, and Utah’s Kyle Whittingham shake hands before the Gators’ 29-26 victory over the #7 Utes last season in Gainesville. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Coaches: Napier, Season 2 (6-7, 46-19 Overall), Whittingham, Season 19, 154-74.

fast mile: Florida is 8-13 in the real road season opener. But since a loss at Miami in 1987, UF has only played one game — a 51-35 win at Ole Miss in 2020, when COVID-19 led to an SEC-only schedule. Napier became the first UF coach to be a seeded team in his debut appearance when the Gators opened 2022 with a 29-26 win over the then No. 7 Utah. Utes coach Kyle Whittingham He succeeded Urban Meyer after the 2004 season. Napier is Florida’s fourth head coach since Mayer resigned in 2010 in Gainesville.

Urban Meyer stands at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium before he is officially introduced as Florida's new head football coach on December 7, 2004. (Tom Burton/Orlando Sentinel)
Urban Meyer poses at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium before being officially introduced as Florida’s head coach on December 7, 2004. (Tom Burton/Orlando Sentinel)

About Utah: whether Quarterback Cam Rising Ready to come back from the ACL tear he suffered during the Rose Bowl that consumed the Utes season. On the eve of the game ESPN reported Rising as questionable. Al-Kabir’s leadership, durability and production — he accounted for 3,499 yards and 32 points in 2022 — are irreplaceable. Redshirt Junior Bryson Barnes It’s plan B, now redshirt freshman Nate Johnson We will see the work. Barnes is a classic pocket passer-by. Johnson poses a double threat. Whoever lines up will do so behind an upper attacking line that rests on the left guard Keaton Bells And correct handling Satwa Lumiaa First-team All-Pac-12 selection. It is also doubtful that he is recovering from a knee injury Tight end Brant Kueth. He set UF on fire for 105 yards and had nine scores last season. The Utah defensive front sets the tone behind the second-team All-Pac-12 tackle Junior Tafuna. All-Pac-12 cornerback Clark Phillips III Setting the tone in high school. He led the conference last season with six interceptions and six breakups.

Utah quarterback Cam Rising prepares before the Jan. 2 Rose Bowl game against Penn State.  (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
Utah quarterback Cam Rising warms up before the Jan. 2 Rose Bowl game against Penn State. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

About Florida: The Gators entered the offseason winning three games, including Florida’s first loss to Vanderbilt since 1988. A win over Utah would be a step toward avoiding three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the 1950s. Napier and Co. He is improving his roster talent and depth, but he needs to improve quarterback Graham Mertz, who was 13-19 at Wisconsin, and bolster his two supporting lines. The offensive line features three new players and a health concern with veteran center Kingsley Igwakon. Iguakun, who has started 26 matches over the past two seasons, is facing doubts due to a lower body injury. Memphis transfer handles Cam Jackson He is among the seven newcomers on the defensive front. The Gators’ five-man secondary features four freshmen. Third-year cornerback Jason Marshall He leads a unit full of talent and potential.

Three things to watch

Florida Run Game: Napier’s attack begins with an effective ground attack. Punch 1-2 Montrell Johnson Jr And Trevor Etienne He was phenomenal in 2022, finishing the regular season with 1,532 yards passing, 6.03 yards per attempt, and 16 touchdowns.

Florida running back Montrell Johnson Jr. against South Florida during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Florida running back Montrell Johnson Jr. vs. South Florida in a game on September 17 in Gainesville. (John Rao/AP)

Young Gators: UF will count on many inexperienced players in 2023. Topping the list is the first year Freshman safety Jordan Castle, a former West Orange standout who will make his first college start in a win over Michigan transfer RJ Moten. Also keep an eye on the 6-foot-5, 250-lb Tony Livingstone, a special athlete in a narrow end-use offense. Fellow Tampa native Eugene Wilson III He arrived in June, but has impressed the veterans with his explosive industry and footballing intelligence.

Rice-Eccles Stadium: Although modest by SEC standards, with a capacity of 51,444, Utah’s home stadium is a powerhouse. The Utes have gone undefeated the past two seasons in one of college football’s most scenic and underappreciated settings. Besides the raucous crowd, the Gators will have to find a second wind at 4,265 feet.

where: Rice-Eccles Stadium

when: 8 p.m

television: espn

radio: ESPN FM 98.1/AM 850 WRUF, Sirius/XM 84

weather: 88 degrees, 8% chance of rain

favorite: Utah 6.5 points

Connected:; @osgators on X.

Edgar Thompson can be reached at

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button