Abolverdi's Answers: Florida’s run game, front-seven shine vs. FAU

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Florida wide receiver Rick Wells runs into the end zone Saturday to score a touchdown after catching a pass from quarterback Emory Jones 
 against Florida Atlantic at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Before every Florida game, Gainesville Sun college football beat writer Zach Abolverdi comes up with five pertinent questions and then answers them after the game. Here's Week 1 after the 35-14 win over FAU:

How many total yards and touchdowns will Emory Jones account for in his first start?

Emory Jones had just under 200 total yards (197) and a touchdown pass, but finished with more turnovers than scores against the Owls. Jones threw two interceptions, including one in the end zone, and also had a turnover on downs after he got the wrong signal from the sideline on Florida’s fourth-and-goal attempt. He finished with 113 yards on 17-of-27 passing, while adding 74 yards rushing on 10 carries. Backup QB Anthony Richardson had 200 total yards, highlighted by his 160-yard rushing performance — six yards shy of Tim Tebow’s single-game school record on 20 fewer carries.  

How will Florida manage to rotate all five running backs and distribute carries? 

The bulk of the workload Saturday night went to Malik Davis, who got the start at running back and had his first 100-yard game since his true freshman season. Davis carried the ball 14 times for 104 yards and a touchdown, his first since the UT Martin game in 2019. Dameon Pierce had the second-most carries among the backs (six for 31 yards and two touchdowns) and posted a career-high five catches for 25 yards. Nay’Quan Wright rushed the ball three times for five yards and made a four-yard catch, while Clemson transfer Demarkcus Bowman checked into the game on the third series and finished with four carries for 20 yards. Lorenzo Lingard had a pair of rushes for four yards in the second half. 

Florida running back Malik Davis scores a touchdown Saturday against Florida Atlantic at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Are the Gators able to establish the run and protect Jones with their reshuffled O-line?

The run blocking was excellent from Florida’s offensive line, which paved the way for 400 yards on the ground. That set a school record for rushing yards in an opener, breaking the previous mark of 369 rushing yards vs. Charleston Southern in 2009. This was a tone-setting performance from a unit that plans to pound the rock this season. The only glaring negative was Ethan White’s 10-yard holding penalty on a Bowman run. The offensive line also blocked well in pass protection, allowing no sacks or quarterback hurries and giving Jones time to throw throughout the game.

Can UF’s front seven generate pressure and sacks on FAU QB N’Kosi Perry?

Florida’s front seven dominated the FAU offensive line, harassing N’Kosi Perry all night. The Gators came up with six sacks, tying their season-high from a year ago, and half of them were made by preseason first-team All-SEC selection Zachary Carter. He set a career high with three sacks and forced a fumble. Outside linebacker Khris Bogle sacked Perry on third down to force a punt, and nose tackle Gervon Dexter made half a sack and recovered two fumbles. The Gators also had eight quarterback hurries from Brenton Cox Jr. (two), Jeremiah Moon, Mohamoud Diabate, Daquan Newkirk, Antonio Valentino, Princely Umanmielen and Dexter. 

Will Florida’s secondary play with better communication and force turnovers? 

Despite three new starters in the secondary, Florida’s defensive backs appeared to communicate better with their calls and didn’t have any busted coverages. The Gators didn’t pick Perry off, but held him under 200 yards passing until FAU’s late touchdown drives in the fourth. Trey Dean III played well at safety and was the only defender with a pass breakup. Mordecai McDaniel set a career high with six tackles and started opposite safety Rashad Torrence II. Cornerback Avery Helm and nickel Tre’Vez Johnson (STAR) also made their first career starts. Penalties were the biggest issue in the secondary Saturday night. Freshman cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. was called for pass interference, Elijah Blades had a facemask penalty and Jadarrius Perkins and McDaniel were flagged for personal fouls. 

More:Swampcast UF vs. FAU

Up next

Who: Florida (1-0) vs. South Florida (0-1)

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa

TV: ABC

Radio: AM-850, 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM

Zach Abolverdi, the new UF Football Beat Writer at The Gainesville Sun, Dec. 1, 2020.

Zach Abolverdi is a staff writer for The Gainesville Sun. He can be reached at zabolverdi@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAbolverdi