GAINESVILLE — Because of Florida’s mediocre schedule and some too-close-for-comfort wins against teams that have since struggled, we didn’t know a lot about the Gators through their first five games.
That’s no longer true after UF knocked off undefeated Auburn by double digits Saturday. Here are a few things we know as the No. 7 Gators prepare to play at No. 5 LSU this weekend:
1. The defense is really good, if not great
The SP+ advanced metrics system ranks UF’s defense No. 5 in the nation, behind Oregon, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin. In more traditional statistics, UF’s defense leads the nation in the red zone, ranks fifth in scoring (9.5 points allowed per game), ninth in passing efficiency, 16th in yards per play and 20th in yards allowed per rush. The Gators’ elite cornerback duo (CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson) is finally healthy, and the unit will get even better Saturday with the expected return of end Jabari Zuniga from an ankle injury. No matter the level, a good defense can keep you in almost any game. And these Gators have a very good one.
2. The skill players are as good as advertised
“It’s got to be one of the best groups around because of the unselfishness…” coach Dan Mullen said. The proof: Seven Gators have between 12 and 25 catches. The top six receivers (including tight end Kyle Pitts) all have between 166 and 280 yards. That’s a testament to how deep and talented the unit is. Against Kentucky, it was Josh Hammond rushing 76 yards for the final touchdown. Against Auburn, it was Freddie Swain turning a 9-yard slant into a 64-yard score. And don’t overlook some of the little things, like receiver Van Jefferson making a key block that helped spring Swain’s touchdown, or Jefferson recovering a muffed punt against Miami.
3. The offensive line remains a serious concern
Running back Lamical Perine finished with 130 yards Saturday, but 88 of them came on the breakaway fourth-quarter touchdown. Perine’s run counts, of course, and it was a big play at a big time. But the Gators’ run game otherwise struggled, just as it has for much of the season. Against Division I-A teams, UF’s rushing attack is No. 93 nationally (3.58 yards per carry). The leaky line shows up on passes, too, like the three strip-sacks Auburn had on Kyle Trask. LSU’s elite secondary will challenge UF’s receivers, which makes the Gators’ run game (and offensive line) pivotal this weekend.
4. The Gators bounce back well
Trask called UF “one of the most resilient teams I’ve ever been a part of.” Trask is the obvious example of that. When starter Feleipe Franks fractured/dislocated his ankle at Kentucky, Trask slid in and led the double-digit, fourth-quarter comeback. When Trask sprained his knee against Auburn, blue-chip third-stringer Emory Jones finished the drive and led UF to a field goal. Add in UF’s gritty fourth quarter against Miami, and we know the Gators can rebound from mistakes and find multiple ways to win.
• Trask said he’s “day by day” but will be ready to play against LSU. He wore a brace and compression sleeve over his left knee Monday.
• Mullen backed off his criticism Saturday that Auburn made a dirty play on the Marlon Davidson hit that injured Trask. “I don’t think that was being coached or there was intent to go injure him on that play,” Mullen said. “I think that’s something when you look at player safety, we’ve got to really pay attention.”
• Kickoff and TV information for the Oct. 19 game at South Carolina will be announced Sunday. The game will either start at noon, 3:30 or 6.