Sunday, September 18, 2016

UF Football: #23 Florida Offensively Struggles Against North Texas in Trap Game

The #23 Florida Gators (3-0) concluded their three game home stretch with a 32-0 victory over the North Texas Mean Green (1-2) last night.

Florida's offensive game plan differed in this game as they ran ball 43 times compared to 29 passes. Quarterback Luke Del Rio looked a bit out of sync as he completed 14 of 25 passes for 186 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception.

Del Rio would not see the end of the game, and unfortunatley it was not because the Gators were winning by so much that Coach Mac had to pull the starters. With the score 19-0 and 1:10 left in the third quarter, Del Rio took a cheap shot to the knee and went down in agonizing pain.

The culprit was linebacker Joshua Wheeler, who for some reason felt it was necessary to go low on Del Rio in a game both he, his coach, his teammates, their fans, and UNT's athletic director knew they had no shot at winning. He was not ejected for the dirty hit, but somehow Florida's sophomore left guard Martez Ivey was tossed for this "punch":

So after some scuffling and a few thousand boos from the Gator Faithful in The Swamp, Del Rio was helped off the field and play resumed. Graduate transfer Austin Appleby was now the signal-caller for the remainder of the game. At that point, Coach Mac essentially gave up on throwing the ball as Appleby completed two of his four passes for 30 yards.

With Del Rio going down and the passing game just not clicking last night, the Gators had to rely on their running backs to grind out the victory over this C-USA opponent. Of the four running backs who played, three of them had exactly 11 carries and all of them had a rushing touchdown.

Let's start with junior transfer Mark Thompson. As the lead back for the Gators, Thompson ran for a team-high 85 yards on 11 touches with a 20-yard TD scamper in the early stages of the fourth quarter. His TD run may have been the most exciting of the night as he leaped over a UNT defender at the goal line!

Next on the leaderboard was sophomore Jordan Scarlett. With 11 carries to his name as well, Scarlett ran for 62 yards and found pay dirt with 7:15 left in the fourth quarter to cap off Florida's scoring for the evening.

Behind Scarlett was true freshman Lamical Perine. Continuing to play a pivotal role in the offensive attack, Perine made good use of his 11 rushing attempts as he ran for 57 yards and scored the second Gator touchdown of the second quarter with three minutes to go in the half.

Rounding out the ground unit, sophomore Jordan Cronkrite had the fewest carries but was actually the first of the four to score. He rushed nine times for 46 yards and found the end zone in the opening minutes of the second quarter.

In the wide receiving corps, not much can be said considering Florida's run-first approach last night. Star wideout Antonio Callaway did not even play in the game, so from the get-go Del Rio (and eventually Appleby) lacked an explosive playmaker to get the ball to.

The tight ends were finally given a bigger part in the offense, as junior DeAndre Goolsby hauled in a team-high three catches for 40 yards. He was one of three Gators to record a trio of catches.

The next Gator with three receptions was Jordan Cronkrite. Making up for his limited use at tailback, Cronkrite total 22 yards on the three balls that he caught. With a very similar yard total, junior Brandon Powell gained 20 yards on his three receptions of the night.

With those three combining for 82 receiving yards, it is worth mentioning that freshman Josh Hammond recorded nearly that whole amount on just two catches. He finished his night with 72 yards, with a chunk of those coming off a 53-yard bomb from Del Rio in the first quarter.

Despite leading 19-0 going into the fourth quarter at one point, the Gator offense still performed fairly well as a unit. They accounted for 471 total yards and 26 first downs. For red zone conversions they were five of seven, getting stopped twice on fourth down in the first half.

Geoff Collins's defense put on a historic effort in this game. They allowed just 53 total yards of offense (-13 rushing and 66 passing), which is a school record for the lowest amount of yards that a Gator team has ever allowed.

This Gator defense is SCARY good. According to what I have seen on, they rank first in scoring defense and total defense and second in rushing defense and passing defense. Yes, the opponents are of weaker proportions in UMass, Kentucky, and North Texas. However, it cannot be denied that this Gator defense has dominated every offense put in front of them.

In regards to last night's game, the defense once again feasted. On the second play of the game, Caleb Brantley broke through the line and sacked Mean Green QB Mason Fine for a safety. This was Brantley's only sack of the night, but it set the defensive tone for the game as Florida had seven sacks.

Redshirt freshman Jabari Zuniga was the team leader in this department as he reached the quarterback twice and forced a fumble. As a fellow defensive line substitution with Zuniga, true freshman Jachai Polite was able to wrestle the quarterback down once for his only tackle of the game.

Among the starters (having already mentioned the redshirt junior in Brantley), senior nose tackle Joey Ivie had half a sack, with the other half going to senior linebacker Jarrad Davis. Meeting up with Ivie at the quarterback, Davis totaled 1.5 sacks and also led the defense with six tackles.

Sharing that honor with Davis was safety Marcus Maye, who found a way to join the sack party from the secondary with one on the night. The redshirt senior also had a pass breakup as the Gator defensive backs held UNT to 6 of 22 passing with six pass breakups and one interception.

Junior cornerback Quincy Wilson led the secondary with two pass breakups and Marcell Harris recorded his first career interception. He nearly took it all the way in for a score before being flagged down at the UNT 16-yard line. It was still a great return for the redshirt junior nevertheless.

Special Teams
Yet again, special teams remained consistent. Shaking off a 1-3 performance last week, Eddy Pineiro drilled his only field goal attempt in the game from 22 yards out. The redshirt sophomore was also flawless on all three of his extra point attempts while drilling five of his six kickoffs for touchbacks.

In the punting unit, Johnny Townsend was spectacular as usual. Sending off four punts, the redshirt junior averaged 55.2 yards per kick with his longest going 59 yards. He pinned the Mean Green inside the 20-yard line just once.

In the return game, Florida could get nothing cooking as Brandon Powell returned five kicks for a total of 23 yards. UNT had a weird approach in their attempts to pin Florida as the punter would take the snap, run towards the sideline and then boot a line drive. It was effective, but still unorthodox.

Final Takeaway:
For three quarters, it was a brutal game for me to watch. Yes, the defense was exciting, but I like to see offense. It was tough watching the Gators struggle to throw the ball against a mediocre C-USA team. Callaway not playing is a viable reason for the lack of offensive production through the air, but that can't be used as an excuse for no passing touchdowns whatsoever.

Regardless, a win is a win. The AP pollsters seemed to like it as Florida is now No. 19 in the rankings. Next up is a good ol' matchup at Rocky Top with the No. 14 Tennessee Volunteers (3-0).

To heighten the stakes even more, College GameDay has decided that this is the going to be the venue where they set up shop for next weekend. The last time GameDay did the Florida-Tennessee game was 2012. Florida won that game 37-20.

Regardless if Lee Corso's headgear pick is the Gators or not, I am a firm believer that Florida will win their 12th straight game over the Vols. Luke Del Rio being out for this game definitely hurts the Gators, but it's also worth noting that Florida has been in this position before. As beat reporter Thomas Goldkamp puts it:

Here are some questions that I am interested to see get answered in the Tennessee game:

  • How will kicker Eddy Pineiro do in his first road game where the fans aren't chanting his name every time he takes the field?
  • How will Austin Appleby, who has a career record of 2-9 in 11 starts, fare in hostile Neyland Stadium against a Tennessee team determined to end this losing streak?
  • Will the defense continue their dominant trend? Or will the dual threat capability of Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs give them problems like last year?

These are just a few of many questions I have concerning the Gators going into this rivalry game. Tennessee may appear better on paper, but constantly losing to the same team every year has a draining effect on the psyche. I know this because I experienced it all too much when I played high school baseball.

Regardless, Florida did a good job surviving their trap game and will once again rip out the hearts of Tennessee fans on September 24th. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m ET. and the game can be seen on CBS. As always, it can also be heard on the Gator IMG Sports Network.

As for the the North Texas Mean Green, they will collect their $500,000 check from the University of Florida and head on down to Houston for a date with the Rice Owls (0-3). Kickoff for this C-USA matchup is at 7 p.m. ET. It can be seen on CUSAtv, if there is anyone who has that channel for some reason. I got North Texas walking out with the 'W'.

Here's my final tidbit of the article: Del Rio's injury is not season-ending (thank God). According to SEC Country, he will miss the Tennessee and Vandy games, but it is possible that he could return for LSU. Only time will tell of course, but it has to be encouraging to Gator fans knowing that Del Rio will come back at some point.

Go Gators! Let's make it 12 straight over the Vols on Saturday!

*All stats accredited to, GatorCountry (for the defensive rankings), & SECCountry.



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