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5 tidbits on Florida Gators’ opener at Utah

Florida knows Utah hasn’t lost at home in two years, “but we’re getting ready to break that.”
The Florida Gators will try to beat Utah for the second year in a row, this time at a tough Utes environment.
The Florida Gators will try to beat Utah for the second year in a row, this time at a tough Utes environment. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP (2022) ]
Published Aug. 25

GAINESVILLE — Though the Florida Gators are used to big-time road venues in the SEC, they’re expecting a challenging environment at No. 14 Utah in Thursday’s season opener.

The Utes haven’t lost at home since their opener against USC in the 2020 COVID season. Utah’s 14-game winning streak at Rice-Eccles Stadium includes a dozen victories by at least two scores.

“We know that,” receiver Ricky Pearsall said, “but we’re getting ready to break that.”

It’s only the third time in the last 38 years Florida has opened with a true road game. The last two: at Mississippi in 2020 (a 51-35 win) and at Miami in 1987 (a 31-4 loss).

Here are four other tidbits from Friday’s media availability:

Florida isn’t changing much because of the altitude

Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium is a challenging venue for opponents. The elevation is one reason why.
Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium is a challenging venue for opponents. The elevation is one reason why. [ RICK BOWMER | AP (2022) ]

Utah’s stadium sits more than 4,600 feet above sea level. That’s roughly 4,400 feet higher than Gainesville.

The elevation is a contributing factor to the Utes’ homefield advantage; higher altitudes can make an athletes’ endurance suffer if they’re not used to it.

It should come as no surprise that Florida’s massive support staff spent what coach Billy Napier described as “extensive time” researching altitude regarding sports science and training. The Gators discussed the issue with NFL teams, too.

Their conclusion: Because it would take 10 days to adjust to the elevation, there’s no reason to tweak their travel routine.

“Get in, get out,” Napier said.

The Gators are preparing for all quarterbacks

Utah quarterback Cameron Rising injured his knee in the Rose Bowl, and his status remains uncertain for next week's opener.
Utah quarterback Cameron Rising injured his knee in the Rose Bowl, and his status remains uncertain for next week's opener. [ MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ | AP ]

Utah star Cameron Rising’s status is uncertain as he recovers from the knee injury he suffered in the Rose Bowl loss to Penn State seven and a half months ago. He hasn’t been fully cleared to participate and said in a recent radio interview his availability “could be down to the wire, absolutely.”

Rising completed 68.8% of his passes at Florida last year and ran seven times for 91 yards. If Rising can’t play, junior Bryson Barnes and four-star redshirt freshman Nate Johnson are Utah’s most likely options.

Napier said Florida is preparing for everyone.

“We’re doing all the homework we can here,” Napier said, “but there’s really some unique players at quarterback that they have on the roster that cause you to really evaluate all the scenarios that could happen.”

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Gators center Kingsley Eguakun remains day-to-day as he recovers from a leg injury, Napier said.

Keep an eye on Tampa’s Eugene Wilson

Eugene Wilson, a blue-chip freshman receiver from Tampa's Gaither High, has impressed his teammates at Florida.
Eugene Wilson, a blue-chip freshman receiver from Tampa's Gaither High, has impressed his teammates at Florida. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

The four-star freshman from Gaither High earned a single-digit jersey number (3) and will have a chance to contribute immediately to a receiving corps that hasn’t had enough playmakers over the last two seasons.

During a recent scrimmage, Wilson caught a pitch and raced effortlessly for a touchdown.

“He’s just a playmaker,” Pearsall said. “It kind of looks easy for him when he’s out there. He snags the ball very naturally, obviously has really good routes. ... He’s taken tremendous strides. I’m really excited for him.”

Netflix has been a big motivator

The Urban Meyer era at Florida is the subject of a four-part Netflix documentary series.
The Urban Meyer era at Florida is the subject of a four-part Netflix documentary series. [ Times (2010) ]

Like many fans, the Gators have been watching the new four-part Netflix documentary series on the Urban Meyer era, “Untold: Swamp Kings.”

Linebacker Teradja Mitchell said the special showed current players how much pride there is in the uniform they’re wearing.

“That’s a standard that’s been set, and it’s important to us as current players to make sure we live up to that standard day in and day out …” Mitchell said. “It’s important for us to restore the order and get back to that standard.”

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