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Florida vs. Colorado State, Preview: Can the Gators handle the Rams?

Florida will likely need to play better up front to rout Colorado State. But how much better is up for debate.

Charleston Southern v Florida Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The Florida Gators have had a week to wince after their loss to Kentucky in The Swamp last Saturday. This Saturday, against Colorado State, the Gators will look to avoid a second consecutive loss — this one, to the program that extracted a trip to The Swamp as part of its payment for Florida securing Jim McElwain’s passage to Gainesville.

Florida is a large favorite in this game, even after that defeat at the hands of the Wildcats. Given that Colorado State came back to knock off Arkansas last week, though, the Gators might have reason to worry about a potential defeat.

When Florida has the ball

The Gators began their 2018 season with 53 points and 38 in the first half against Charleston Southern. Then they scored 16 points against Kentucky — and really only might have scored 24 or so had everything broken right.

Instead, Florida’s offensive line seemed more broken than right against the Wildcats, failing to establish a foothold in the running game and having somewhat less success protecting Feleipe Franks than they did against the FCS Buccaneers a fortnight ago. Florida rushed for 128 yards on 29 carries, but Franks got 44 of those on 11 carries (including sacks) — and though Malik Davis, Lamical Perine, Jordan Scarlett, and Kadarius Toney all had carries of eight or more yards, the Gators never managed to get four yards on the ground on each of two back-to-back plays, instead gaining yards in fits and starts.

Florida’s passing game wasn’t much better. Franks completed just 17 of 38 passes — yeaaah, baby — for 232 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick, but could have easily thrown two or three more interceptions. And his worst miss — a failure to see a wide-open Davis for a two-point conversion that would’ve cut Kentucky’s lead to a field goal late in the fourth quarter — isn’t included in that stat line.

But Colorado State’s defense might cure some ills for the Gators.

The Rams are No. 116 nationally in scoring defense, having given up 38.3 points per game through three contests, and their rankings in the yardage categories as as bad or worse: The Rams are No. 124 in total defense, No. 111 in passing defense, and No. 117 in rushing defense. Yes, Colorado State has played three FBS teams — and Hawai’i and Colorado would appear to be good ones — but Colorado State is also giving up 7.8 yards per play through three games, and that is horrific.

I wouldn’t put it past Florida’s offense to somehow still struggle to dominate up front against these Rams, but I would be surprised if the Gators struggle so profoundly that they can’t score on what appears to be one of the nation’s worst defenses.

Big edge: Florida

When Colorado State has the ball

Of course, Florida’s defense might have been worse than its offense against Kentucky.

The Wildcats rung up 454 yards of total offense — 303 of them on the ground and 175 of those belonging to Benny Snell — by overwhelming Florida’s defensive front for almost the entirety of the game and getting timely big plays from dynamic quarterback Terry Wilson. Losing Marco Wilson to injury didn’t immediately aerate Florida’s secondary, but it also didn’t matter a week ago; Kentucky simply ran the Gators over, again and again.

The good news for Florida is that Colorado State is genuinely good — with some caveats — at only passing, and wretched at running.

The Rams have thrown for 1,107 yards through three games, with Washington transfer K.J. Carta Samuels having recorded all but five yards of that total and thrown for 537 yards against Hawai’i and 389 yards against Arkansas. Carta-Samuels completed 68 percent of his passes for eight or more yards per attempt against the Rainbow Warriors and Razorbacks.

But he also managed just a 55 percent completion rate and 5.3 yards per attempt against Colorado, and the Buffs may have the best of the three defenses that the Rams have seen.

And on the ground, the Rams have been, uh, really bad?

Colorado State is No. 124 in rushing offense, and is averaging under three yards per carry — despite seeing defenses that have been otherwise pliable against the run. And Mike Bobo has a talented back in his RB rotation in Izzy Matthews, who has racked up over 2,000 yards in his Rams career.

How Florida’s secondary will look sans Wilson, much less how it will stand up to the Rams’ passing game, is an open question. But Florida probably stands a decent chance of making the Rams one-dimensional if it can gum up their running game, and Florida’s defensive backs should be at least equal to the task of guarding Colorado State’s wideouts.

Edge: Florida

When both teams are kicking

Florida’s special teams have been fine through two games, with the only major miss by a Gators kicker being Evan McPherson’s “no good” field goal in the second half against Kentucky. Tommy Townsend looks like a younger version of elder brother Johnny, and Florida’s been decent in coverage, bad on kick returns — where subpar returner Adarius Lemons, who excused himself from Florida’s roster a week ago, can no longer be a detriment — and good on punt returns thanks to Freddie Swain establishing himself as a shifty and instinctive returner.

Colorado State? Well, punter Ryan Blackstone a) has a great name and b) is averaging inches under 50 yards a punt through three games, but the Rams are giving up 15 yards a punt return, somehow have gained exactly zero yards on five punt returns of their own, and are averaging just under 20 yards per kick return on 11 tries — tied for third-most nationally.

At least the kic ... oh, Colorado State’s the only team that entered the weekend having attempted eight field goals and missed at least two. Neat.

Anyway:

Edge: Florida