Florida football took advantage of its opportunity to recalibrate on Saturday night against the McNeese State Cowboys the team’s home-opener for the 2023 campaign inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. While the Gators were not perfect, they cruised to a 49-7 victory that was almost a shutout if not for a fumble in the final minutes.
The Orange and Blue marched down the field for a touchdown on their first possession but the PAT snap flew over the holder’s head, representing the first of a few mistakes made. Florida’s defense locked down the rest of the game while the offense got on track — particularly on the ground where it logged 327 rushing yards, as well as 233 yards through the air.
Following the win, the Gators Wire crew assembled to give their respective takes on what we saw on Saturday night. Take a look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly from Week 2 of the Gators’ 2023 season.
Adam Dubbin - Managing Editor
GOOD: Overall, this was a much better performance than what we saw in SLC, but of course, the level of opposition was significantly inferior. The key was the Gators getting their running game on track — and boy, did they ever in the home opener. Graham Mertz was once again serviceable, save for some inaccuracy issues, and Ricky Pearsall got some productive touches as well.
BAD: There really is not a “bad” for this one given the final result, but the defense gave us a “not this again” moment early on when it allowed a big play. The corps proceeded to lock things down for the rest of the game, giving Napier the near-shutout.
UGLY: This special teams unit once again looked shaky as the bad snap and failed two-point conversion were ugly. But otherwise, the corps was not given a lot of opportunities to fail thanks to the offense and defense, which were able to bail it out — including a 99-yard touchdown drive after a punt recovered at the one-yard line.
David Rosenberg - Assistant Editor
GOOD: Everything. The Gators that played against McNeese looked like a different team than the one that played Utah. There’s little doubt that Week 1 served as a wake-up call for this team, and Florida corrected almost every mistake that it made in just nine days. The running backs put up gaudy numbers, but let’s give some love to the offensive line too. Holes were opening up all over the place, especially on the left side. We still need to see them do it against SEC linemen, but this was a dominant performance nonetheless.
BAD: The third and fourth-stringers didn’t have a great day, but Florida was simply trying to close out the game at that point. It’s pretty hard to come up with something bad in a 49-7 blowout, but giving up those late points stung. Battle’s fumble needed a replay to confirm he never regained firm control of the ball after losing it, so he’s the scapegoat this week. Tough break…
UGLY: What’s the point of calling the special teams unit “game changers” if they only change the game for the worse? McNeese looked pretty bad, but they might have won the special teams battle. Sigh.
Jesse Richardson - Staff Writer
GOOD: I wish I could call this section “the beautiful.” I’m a huge advocate for the old-school game of running the football and the Gators fulfilled my every wish. Running backs Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne can be a deadly combination if they’re given the right amount of workload. The team may never be able to replicate 300 rush yards again this season, but the stat is enough for the Florida Faithful to regain their confidence before Tennessee comes to town.
BAD: Florida’s passing game looks too dull. Albeit, the 50-yard dime from Graham Mertz to Ricky Pearsall was a fine play. The rest of the productive pass plays was a screen, screen, another screen, and finally a checkdown pass to tight end Jonathan Odom. The game plan will work against a struggling McNeese State, but teams like Tennessee will be able to shut that down quickly.
UGLY: The Gators didn’t complete the shutout and gave up the score in an ugly way. The UF third and fourth stringers took over the game when the score was out of reach for the Cowboys. Florida took the field, late in the fourth, and handed the ball off to Eddie Battle who was immediately stripped of the football deep in Gators territory. McNeese State took advantage to put up six points on the ensuing drive. I’m sure Napier didn’t lose all of his trust for the fourth-team running back, but we may not see him take a handoff for a while.
Pat Dooley - Staff Writer
GOOD: After abandoning the run last week against Utah, Florida came out with a purpose against an undermanned team and ran the ball so well that the Gators didn’t punt until the fourth quarter. They needed to grease up the running game, but it will be a different kind of opponent next week.
BAD: Boy, when that high extra-point snap from Rocco Underwood went sailing through Jeremy Crawshaw’s hands, we were all looking for something to kick. The special teams didn’t do much wrong after that, which was an improvement I guess.
UGLY: The late fumble by Eddie Battle. That was overturned to give McNeese the ball. Which gave the Cowboys an easy TD against the third-team defenders. You hate to see a defense that played that well lose a shutout that way. It reminded me of a game in 1969 when the backup quarterback fumbled for a safety against North Carolina in a 52-2 win. Yes, I am older than all of you.