- When: Saturday, September 4th, 7:PM Est.
- Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Florida
- TV: SEC Network
Florida Atlantic Owls:( Willie Taggert 5-4 last year, 61-66 overall coaching record, 2nd year at FAU)
Florida Gators: (Dan Mullen 8-4 last year, 98-55 overall coaching record, 4th year at UF, 29-9 with the Gators)
Line: Florida -23.5
Florida Gators vs Florida Atlantic Pick | Game Preview:
The Florida Gators are coming off an 8-4 season in 2020, and a first place finish in the SEC Eastern Division, losing to eventual national champion Alabama 42-36 in a hard fought SEC Championship Game. They finished up their season by dropping a 55-20 contest to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. After an 8-1 start to the year, UF dropped its last 3 games of the season. They return a total of 9 starters in 2021, 4 on offense and 5 on defense.
With the notable departures of star quarterback Kyle Trask and tight end Kyke Pitts, both of whom moved on to the NFL, the reins to key the offense having finally been given to new starting quarterback Emory Jones, a dual threat QB that backed up Trask the last three seasons. Jones has the legs and running ability to escape heavy pressure in the pocket, something Kyle Trask often struggled with during his time with the Gators. Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis and Nay’Quan Wright all return as experienced running backs, splitting carries last season for a solid 1,026 yards between the three of them. With the top 3 receivers gone from an explosive offensive attack last season, expect this to be more of a run-first offense, with Clemson transfer RB Demarkus Bowman adding even more depth to a deep proven backfield.
Gators gave up a woeful 30.8 points per game a season ago, the worst statistical average for a defensive unit from UF in over a century, mostly due to inconsistent play from the secondary. Todd Grantham returns as defensive coordinator and installs a new set of assistants under his watch looking to play more man to man coverage. The defensive line is strong, led by Zachary Carter who combined for 5 sacks and 35 tackles a year ago. Brenton Cox had 4 sacks and can play linebacker.
Special Teams: Jace Christamann, a Mississippi State transfer, likely takes over the kicking role and Jeremy Crawshaw is the favorite to be the new punter for this group. Christamann was 8-10 on field goal attempts in his last full season in Starkville(12 games) in 2019, and figures to be a solid pickup from the transfer portal.
The Owls are an experienced group returning 20 starters from last season,10 on offense, 9 on defense and the punter on special teams. A program that has steadily improved in an up and down fashion since its inception in 1999, has quietly made it to six straight bowl games and was the only college football program in the state of Florida to go unbeaten in their home stadium(5-0) in 2020.
Former Miami Hurricanes QB N’Kosi Perry has recently been named the Owls starting quarterback for the game Saturday against the Gators. He outlasted multiple people that were up for the starting job, in what was once a four way competition for the starting job back in the spring. When he suddenly became available in the transfer portal in the summer, it’s likely he caught the eye of head coach Willie Taggart who coached a FSU squad that was victimized by Perry for four touchdown passes he threw in a 2018 rivalry game between Miami and Florida State when Perry suited up for the Canes. He’ll need to come up big because James Charles, the leading rusher on an anemic FAU offense last year had only 429 yards on the ground.
The defense is where it’s at for FAU, as it returns all but one starter on this side of the ball, a unit that allowed only 17.4 points per game last year, good for 10th in the nation. Look for defensive end Jaylen Joyner(six sacks) and safety Teja Young(two interceptions) to be the ones to create the much needed early turnover to keep the Owls competitive at least for at least a while in this game. Akileis Leroy missed last season with an injury but returns after having an impressive 15.5 tackles for loss back in 2019.
Special Teams: The kicking game was a problem last season as Vladimir Rivas made just 35 of 52 attempts and mercifully left the program entering the transfer portal. Punter Matt Hayball(44.1 yard average) is back, but there remains questions in the return game with no one back there to really scare opponents and write home about.
Florida Atlantic Keep in mind, many casual fans may forget that the FAU program has already covered the spread once in this cross-state matchup between these schools. In 2015, the Owls took UF to double overtime before faltering late in what nearly could have been the biggest win in its program’s history. Those players are gone and have graduated, but they represent the type of talent FAU can bring into its program, with 14 current FAU alumni playing on NFL rosters entering this season.
I think Emory Jones will live up to his billing for UF and create some exciting mobility in the pocket, but this is an experienced FAU defense that’s been around and I think it will create some early havoc on Jones whose just getting used to shouldering a new leadership role in this offense, that will be run much differently than it did with Kyle Trask, and it’s gonna take a few series to get used to it, especially since Jones doesn’t have an experienced target to throw to at this early stage in the season. This Gators team is probably rated a bit high in the preseason with all of its departures and questions on both sides of the ball. N’kosi Perry will throw a touchdown pass or two against a saturated UF defense and coming from the University of Miami’s football program is used to playing on the big stage and won’t be intimidated by the Swamp.
The 4-headed monster rushing attack of the Gators with Pierce, Davis, Wright and newcomer Bowman will be just what Florida will need to wear down the Owls in the 2nd half, as it will turn into a classic mismatch of the depth of a bigger school out-muscling the smaller less athletic team at games end. FAU covers but barely.
Score Prediction: Florida 35 Florida Atlantic 14.