TAMPA — Though there is some familiarity between the No. 18 Florida Gators and USF from last year’s matchup, Bulls coach Jeff Scott does not expect that to help his team Saturday.
“This looks like a different (Florida) team through two weeks than maybe where they were last year,” Scott said Tuesday.
The obvious reason why is Billy Napier, the first-year Gators coach whom Scott worked with at Clemson.
Though Scott was careful not to make comparisons to what Florida looked like last year under Dan Mullen, he sees Napier’s stamp on the Gators.
“You can definitely see a team that is playing extremely hard,” Scott said. “They believe in what they’re doing. Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter if it’s a backside tight end that’s not involved with the play — he’s doing his job like the game depends on it.”
Scott also said the Gators look “very disciplined” on film. That’s a notable change from the previous regime, which was prone to penalties and breakdowns.
The change shouldn’t be a surprise. Scott knows firsthand how much Napier preaches fundamentals and effort after working with him closely with the Tigers from 2009-10.
Florida also looks different on film because of a name Scott knows well: Etienne. Freshman running back Trevor Etienne leads UF with 7.9 yards per carry and had a rushing touchdown and two-point conversion reception last week. Scott sees the resemblance between that Etienne and his older brother, Travis, who played for Scott with the Tigers.
“He looks just like Travis did at Clemson, except I don’t know that Travis looked like that as a true freshman…” Scott said. “He’s already a big-time playmaker for them.”
The biggest playmakers Scott raved about were on the other side of the ball. He called UF’s defensive line “elite” and the best he has faced in his two-plus seasons at USF. That’s high praise, considering the Bulls have gone up against a pair of College Football Playoff participants (2020 Notre Dame and 2021 Cincinnati), two ranked BYU teams and a Houston front that ranked sixth nationally in sacks.
“They’re physical,” USF center Brad Cecil said. “I think that they play the game how it’s supposed to be played. They play hard. They play fast.”
Follow the state’s college football teams
Subscribe to our free Florida Football Fix newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
USF has the potential to play that way, too. The Bulls entered the season with more career starts on the offensive line (154) than anyone else in the country.
One common thread between last year’s matchup and this year’s is Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson. He came off the bench last year to rip off an 80-yard touchdown run and pass for a 75-yard score in the Gators’ 42-20 win.
Though Richardson struggled last week against Kentucky, he remains one of the most talented players in the country and a major challenge for USF to try to corral for its first win over a ranked opponent since 2016.
“I would say that after we finished the BYU game, we were not ready to beat a top-25 team. That was two weeks ago,” Scott said. “That’s the exciting part about football. Each week is a new week. You get new opportunities to grow. We’ll find out after Week 3 whether we play well enough to do that.”
“It’s an amazing experience to be able to play in The Swamp. It’s a beautiful crowd. They get a little rowdy there at times. It’s nice, especially when you beat them.” — USF defensive end Jatorian Hansford, who was 2-2 against the Gators while at Missouri (including a 38-17 win in Gainesville in 2018)
Scott said USF hopes to get safety Matthew Hill, linebacker Antonio Grier and receiver Ajou Ajou back from injuries this week after they missed the Howard win.
• • •
Never miss out on the latest with the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, Florida college sports and more. Follow our Tampa Bay Times sports team on Twitter and Facebook.