- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida not playing on Saturday presented the chance to get a look at some of the Gators’ upcoming opponents.
Here’s a breakdown of what Florida fans should like about what they saw and what should be a concern when they play.
Result: beat Towson 38-22. Plays at Florida on Saturday.
What you should like: It was another sluggish, sloppy outing for the Tigers’ offense and QB Zach Mettenberger. He was sacked four times, failed to connect with several open receivers, and committed a fumble that led to a Towson touchdown.
LSU fumbled five times (recovering two) and appears to have lost 272-pound FB J.C. Copeland for several weeks and possibly longer.
The Tigers’ defense didn’t look impressive against an FCS opponent, either. Towson gained 291 yards and twice drove the field for TDs in the fourth quarter. Plus, Towson rushed for 188 yards.
What should concern you: WR Odell Beckham flashed his big-play ability by catching touchdown passes of 27 and 53 yards. He caught five passes for 128 yards, an average of 25.6 yards per catch.
Result: beat Kentucky 38-17. Plays at Florida Oct. 20.
What you should like: Kentucky’s defense held South Carolina and RB Marcus Lattimore in check in the first half. The Gamecocks had just 26 yards rushing and trailed 17-7 at the break.
What should concern you: It was a different story in the second half. Lattimore put the Gamecocks on his back and finished with 120 yards and two touchdowns to help South Carolina finish with 174 yards rushing in the second half.
Lattimore showed no signs of the knee injury that ended his 2011 season prematurely. He made several impressive cuts on the knee and powered through and dragged tacklers for several yards.
QB Connor Shaw made plays with his feet as well as his arm. He had 224 yards of total offense (76 rushing) and threw for two touchdowns. It was a lot like the kind of games UF QB Jeff Driskel has had this season.
South Carolina’s defense held Kentucky to just 7 yards rushing in the second half.
Result: beat Tennessee 51-44. Plays Florida in Jacksonville on Oct. 27.
What you should like: Even with the return of All-American S Bacarri Rambo and LB Alec Ogletree, the Bulldogs’ defense did not look that impressive. Tennessee rolled up 478 yards, including 197 passing and the Vols went 8-for-15 on third down. UT was able to get yardage in big chunks, too. WR Cordarrelle Patterson had a 46-yard TD run, TE Michael Rivera had a 62-yard catch, and the Vols had three more offensive plays of 20 yards or longer.
What should concern you: Georgia’s offense looked fantastic. The Bulldogs totaled 560 yards, including 282 rushing, and averaged 8.8 yards per play. RBs Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley combined for 294 yards and five touchdowns. Marshall had TD runs of 72 and 75 yards and Gurley had a 51-yard TD run. QB Aaron Murray threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns on only 19 completions.
Georgia’s defense forced four turnovers, including causing QB Tyler Bray to fumble with 1:22 remaining to seal the victory. The Bulldogs intercepted Bray three times.
Result: beat UCF 21-16. Plays at Florida Nov. 3.
What you should like: Missouri’s offensive line continues to struggle. The Knights sacked QB James Franklin five times. Missouri’s defense got shredded in the first half, with Central Florida QB Blake Bortles throwing for 156 yards (18-of-22) and RB Storm Johnson rushing for 84 yards.
What should concern you: Franklin looked much better than he did last week against South Carolina, and the Tigers had several big plays on offense, including WR Dorial Green-Beckham’s 80-yard TD catch in which he broke a tackle near midfield and raced into the end zone.
Marcus Murphy also returned a punt for a touchdown in the third quarter to put the Tigers ahead for good.
Home sweet home
Florida’s home game against LSU on Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS) begins an eight-week stretch in which the Gators leave the state only once and play seven games either at home or within three hours of Gainesville.
Florida plays host to LSU and travels to Vanderbilt (Oct. 13) before returning to Gainesville for South Carolina (Oct. 20). The Gators then play Georgia in Jacksonville (Oct. 27), before playing three consecutive home games against Missouri (Nov. 3), Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 10) and Jacksonville State (No. 17). UF finishes the regular season against Florida State in Tallahassee on Nov. 24. The schedule is a benefit for the Gators (4-0, 3-0 SEC) if they are going to be a factor in the league’s Eastern Division.
"Playing at home, in our league, especially at our place, is critical," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "You’ve got to have great success at home in order to win in your league. The Gator Nation here in the Swamp is certainly a huge advantage for us."
However, Florida Field hasn’t exactly been the intimidating place it was under Steve Spurrier and during Meyer’s first five seasons in Gainesville. UF went 1-3 in SEC home games under Meyer in 2010 and went 2-1 in SEC games and lost to FSU in Gainesville last season.
Coming out of the bye week …
1. Will the Gators be better on special teams against the Tigers this season? In 2010, Janoris Jenkins got burned on a fake field goal attempt that resulted in a first down that led to a 33-29 Tigers victory. Last season, Tigers P Brad Wing went 52 yards for a touchdown (which was later brought back to the UF 23 because of a taunting penalty) on a fake punt in the Tigers’ 41-11 rout. Wing saw UF’s players not paying attention and just turning and running to set up a return on the play before, which was nullified by an illegal formation penalty.
2. How healthy are the Gators? UF has seven starters hurt: RB/FB Trey Burton (back spasms), RT Chaz Green (ankle), TE Jordan Reed (head), DT Sharrif Floyd (shoulder), LB Jelani Jenkins (thumb), DB Cody Riggs (foot) and DE Dominique Easley (knee). Muschamp says Burton, Green, Reed, Floyd and Easley should be fine for the LSU game, but Muschamp has admittedly not always been completely truthful with injuries. Jenkins should be able to play with a cast on his hand and Riggs should be out at least one more week.
3. Can UF run the football against LSU’s defensive front? The Tigers’ front seven is supposed to rival Florida State’s as the best in the nation, but Towson was able to run for 188 yards (4.7 yards per carry) on Saturday. Towson, which is an FCS school, doesn’t have a back as good as RB Mike Gillislee (402 yards).