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Florida vs. USF: Can the Gators cleanse their palates?

Florida found itself foundering against Kentucky. Is a matchup against USF going to let the Gators get back to doing what they do best?

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Through two games, the identity of the 2022 Florida Gators is still up in the air.

Florida opened the season being great on offense and lacking on defense against Utah. In Week 2, we got a reversal of roles, with the defense leading the way as the offense foundered. I don’t think the upcoming game against USF will do much towards telling us about Florida’s identity, but it should be a nice palate-cleanser after a vicious opening schedule.

Billy Napier had about as difficult a starting schedule as a new coach could. In fact, according to Brian Fremeau, Florida has one of the most difficult schedules in the country to this point.

Fremeau tracks schedule strength in three ways: How many losses would an elite team (two standard deviations above average) have, how many losses would a good team (one standard deviation above average) have, and how many losses would an average team have against the schedule. Against Florida’s schedule, an elite team would likely be undefeated with .27 projected losses, which ranks eighth nationally. A good team would be 1-1 with a projected 1.02 losses, which ranks second toughest in the country. An average team would be more likely to be 0-2 than 1-1 with 1.75 losses — and, again, that figure is second toughest in the country.

While the opening stretch has been tough, Napier’s bunch should get a reprieve this week. USF is still in the midst of a rebuild that was necessitated mostly by a lack of recruiting under Charlie Strong. The difficulty of the rebuild was compounded by an odd COVID-marred season and poor coordinator hires by first-time head coach Jeff Scott. Scott has two new coordinators this season and has brought the talent level in Tampa up quite a bit by hitting the transfer portal hard.

One of those transfers is former Baylor QB Gerry Bohanon. Bohanon led a Bears team that went 2-7 the previous season to a Big 12 title in 2021. USF is hoping to replicate that turn-around, but early returns for this team haven’t been promising.

Statistical Comparison

Florida vs. USF Statistical Comparison

Team Florida Gators USF Bulls
Team Florida Gators USF Bulls
Category Number Rank Number Rank
YPP Offense 5.64 78 6.33 49
YPP Defense 5.39 76 6.8 122
Available Yards % O 43.00% 70 23.60% 122
Available Yards % D 50.90% 80 85.90% 129
Third Downs O 39.29% 67 25.00% 123
Third Downs D 46.15% 112 53.33% 122
Explosive Plays O 6 112 9 70
Explosive Plays D 9 74 12 103
Turnover Margin -1 89 2 23
Average Starting Field Position Own 23.4 Own 23.7
Player Average Rank Player Average Rank
Team Talent Composite 89.86 12 84.46 65

Florida’s stats show a team that hasn’t been able to have consistency on either side of the ball. For as good as the defense played against Kentucky, numbers from the Utah game are still having a large impact. And the results look similar for the offense; just flip the good game and the bad.

The most concerning issue through two games has been the lack of explosive plays on offense. I believe this is largely a function of the style of defenses the Gators have gone against in the first two weeks. Utah was playing safeties nearly 30 yards off the ball after the snap at times, and Kentucky always makes you earn your way down the field — the Wildcats last gave up double-digit plays of more than 40 yards in a season back in 2017, which is a streak that Alabama, for example, cannot match.

With that in mind, this is still worth monitoring going forward. If you can’t be explosive, especially in the passing game, you will have more defenders getting involved in the run game. And that’s how you end up with a lot more Kentucky-like performances than Utah-like performances for the offense.

Scheme Things We Might See

It might not matter how many Bulls are in the box, though. Through two games, the USF defense has struggled mightily against the run.

The Bulls are giving up 6.26 yards per carry through two games. They struggled in their opening game against BYU when the Cougars employed tempo, and tempo coupled with movement was especially troublesome. I would expect the Gators to get some first downs early with the running game and then try to push the pace. That pace, combined with the shifts and motions Florida likes to employ, should lead to some explosive plays.

Offensively, USF is a base 11 personnel team. They have a talented group of skill players with multiple Power Five transfers. Running backs Jaren Mangham, Michel Dukes, and Brian Battie are productive players. They also have a talented receiver group led by Xavier Weaver and Jimmy Horn — in fact, Horn, who attended Seminole High like Florida legend (or “legend”) Andre Debose, is probably the most explosive receiver on either team. The offensive line has a lot of experience but I don’t think they will be able to get much push against Florida.

I would expect USF to try to get the ball on the perimeter and manufacture some one-on-ones in space for those skill guys.

There are a couple other factors to consider in this game. One is that USF has excelled in the kick return game. The aforementioned Battie was a consensus All-American last year after taking back three kickoffs for touchdowns, and Horn, the other kick returner, took one to the house against BYU in the opener.

The other interesting note is the fact that USF has been really bad in first quarters under Jeff Scott. In Scott’s 20 games as head coach, USF has only led after the first quarter in one game. On average, the Bulls are down eight points after one quarter. If Florida takes the ball to open the game that could lead to a really fast start for the Gators. Get up two possessions early, force USF to be one dimensional and the discrepancy between the Florida defensive line and the Bulls offensive line becomes magnified.

That’s more or less what happened in Tampa last year: Florida led 14-3 after one quarter and pushed that lead to 35-3 at halftime, with Anthony Richardson dazzling as the Gators’ defensive line controlled the rest of the game.

Film Review

Each week over at The Daily Stampede — which has shared custody — we do a film review of the previous USF game. If you want to see how USF plays and what the Gators will be able to exploit check out the videos below.