Perhaps it was a fitting end to one of the more frustrating seasons for the Gators in recent memory when the Central Florida Knights beat them in the 2021 Gasparilla Bowl on Thursday night. The win gave UCF sole claim as the best college football team in the state of Florida and sent UF packing with its first losing season since 2017.
While the tumultuous campaign endured by the Orange and Blue was completely unexpected, the program’s performance in the consolation bowl game was not — at least to anyone who has watched this team since the loss to the Kentucky Wildcats in Week 5.
In Pat Dooley’s words:
It was ugly. Again.
It was a loss. Again.
Florida finished off a disappointing season with a disappointing loss. The brutal finish was secondary to seeing Justin Shorter carted off the field at the end, but we will deal with the football for now.
The good, the bad and the ugly of the bad finish to a bad season:
Adam Dubbin - Managing Editor
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GOOD: It was nice to see the running game do well, but I was expecting an approach that utilized the bull that is Dameon Pierce more than I saw, though Malik Davis also put up a nice performance. Not much outside of that, though.
BAD: Almost everything else. The very first play from scrimmage was flagged for offsides, which foreshadowed the remaining events of the evening. I refuse to believe Emory Jones is as bad as he looked this season — and his performance on Thursday night was no exception — but what he left on the field in 2021 was nothing to be proud of.
UGLY: Speaking of 2021, the entire campaign, to be honest. Even in those early wins, you could see glimpses of the problems that would plague this team throughout the season. Excising Dan Mullen and two members of his staff did little to deal with the symptoms as this group of players clearly retained the fingerprint his tenure imprinted. Hopefully, Billy Napier has a cure to whatever disease is plaguing this program, because the Gator Nation is not at all tolerant toward the level of play we saw this fall.
Tyler Nettuno - Assistant Editor/Writer
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GOOD: It was a nice way for Malik Davis to end his Florida career. He took six carries for 81 yards, and Dameon Pierce had some good success on the ground, as well. Running the ball wasn’t a problem in this one as the team ran for 205 yards and two scores, and if the Gators weren’t forced by game circumstances to throw the ball 36 times, the rushing attack could have given them a chance in this one.
BAD: Despite entering the transfer portal, quarterback Emory Jones and receiver Jacob Copeland played in this one. It didn’t prove to make much of a difference, though, as the passing game netted just 171 yards despite airing it out a lot. Copeland had two grabs for 35 yards, but was largely forgettable, while Jones did not have a strong showing in his final game with the Gators, though he was better on the ground.
UGLY: Aside from allowing 52 points to Samford in its first game with Christian Robinson as interim defensive coordinator, the defense has looked a lot better in recent weeks. It was atrocious against UCF, though, allowing 288 yards and two scores on the ground as well as an efficient day from quarterback Mikey Keene, which featured a few big plays. Linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper had a great start to the game, but he was ejected for throwing a punch in the third quarter. The contest was chippy in general and featured a short-lived brawl at the end. Just a mess of a game.
Pat Dooley - Staff Writer
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GOOD: Well, we have been screaming for Dameon Pierce to get more carries and he did in the first half. And Malik Davis also stepped up to play well. Florida averaged 6.8 yards a rush in the game and went for 205 yards. But UCF took the run game away in the second half holding Florida to 60 yards.
BAD: You have to feel for Emory Jones, who did his best during his Florida career. But the finish was dismal as Jones completed only 14 of 36 passes. It didn’t help that there were several drops including Rick Wells falling down on what could have been a touchdown pass. Still, Florida would have had a different result if Jones had been on target with his deep throws.
UGLY: Billy Napier has a lot of work to do with the players coming back. But if he can’t instill discipline and toughness in this team, it doesn’t matter how many recruiting analysts he hires. Florida had 85 yards in penalties and 30 of them came on what turned out to be the drive to the winning points of the game.
David Rosenberg - Staff Writer
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GOOD: There wasn’t much to celebrate after this one, but Brenton Cox Jr. and Gervon Dexter managed to put together decent games on defense despite the outcome. Cox had four tackles for a loss, including a sack, and Dexter led the team with nine tackles. Both of those guys should be dominant next year for Florida. Oh, and Emory Jones didn’t throw an interception. That’s always nice.
BAD: Jones might not have thrown a pick but he did finish the night completing just 14 of the 36 passes he attempted. He couldn’t make the right reads once again, and it took until the second half for him to connect with the team’s leading receiver Jacob Copeland. If this was the last game Jones played as a Gator, it was an unfortunate way to end things. At least we have the Samford game.
UGLY: Sheesh. Everything? It seemed to be a different problem every week with this team during the regular season, but all of the Gators’ bad habits came together in this one. Too many penalties, an inability to contain the opposing running backs and missed opportunities on offense. UCF might not have put up 40 on Florida as South Carolina did, but losing to little brother never feels good. It should be good fuel for the rematch in 2024, though.