It’s been a stressful week here in Florida.
With Hurricane Ian ravaging the Fort Myers area and saturating the rest of the state — there are more roads closed than you realize, I bet — in ways that have ended and changed too many lives, and an election season sure to make this storm’s round of learning from mistakes and working through recriminations more heated than most, it would be nice to have a football game serve as a break from the stress.
The 2022 Florida Gators are, so far, a bad break from stress.
Over the first 180 minutes of football that they played this fall, a mere nine minutes and seven seconds of game clock were spent being up or down by 10 or more points — zero of that against Utah, the final 1:24 of the 26-16 loss to Kentucky, and a 7:43 stretch into and out of halftime against USF. Florida also never led or trailed by more than 14 points in any of those games; these were mostly one- and very rarely two-possession games — the kind of high-leverage, high-stress affairs that ruin hair.
And while Tennessee did manage to get 10- and 17-point leads on Florida in the second half, Florida also spent much of that second half desperately trying to come back — an obviously successful effort, given that the last play of the game was a Hail Mary by the Gators despite Tennessee taking a 17-point lead with about eight minutes to play. Had Florida succeeded on the two-point conversion that elicited much confusion and consternation last weekend, it’s possible, maybe likely, that Florida would have spent less than a half’s worth of minutes in the realm of double-digit leads and deficits through four games.
And when you consider that those four games were the primetime season opener that served as a debut of different kinds for Billy Napier and Anthony Richardson, an SEC opener against a foe that has turned rival, a non-conference game against an in-state lesser that was hellbent on being greater on that day, and an SEC road opener against a rival program that Florida has hammered into a nail over the last two decades? Well, you could be forgiven for thinking hype is short for hypertension.
This Sunday — because, of course, this season couldn’t just have a Saturday nooner — should be different.
Florida is favored by 30-plus points over Eastern Washington, and the Eagles were ground into a fine paste by an Oregon team that had itself been mortar-and-pestled by Georgia in their only game against FBS competition. Quarterback Gunner Talkington — yes, his real name — has thrown 10 touchdowns in three games, and running back Micah Smith is at 6.8 yards per carry on the season, so there is life in the Eagles’ offense — but the defense is allowing 40 points per game, and would still be allowing 33.5 per contest if you stripped out Oregon’s 70-point performance.
And with all due respect to Bo Nix, I think Anthony Richardson might be the most athletic Eastern Washington has been tasked with defending.
Sure, Florida could make this game a close one. The USF game was close despite Florida being a 20-point favorite, and we’re not a full year removed from the Gators playing basketball on grass with Samford for a half. The idea that this team can take its post-Todd Grantham defense — or the ability to stop even rudimentary run concepts — for granted is laughable.
But it’s hard to imagine Richardson playing well and Florida having to sweat this one. And it sure would be nice if all of us tuning into ESPN+ and SEC Network+ streams didn’t spend hours cursing at our computers.