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Florida 31, USF 28: Gators get a win, but they can’t get right

Florida’s uninspiring performance against USF suggest this may be a difficult season for the Gators.

Syndication: Gator Sports Matt Pendleton / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Florida Gators got a win on Saturday night.

They did not, however, get right.

Florida’s 31-28 win over USF required the Gators to score a go-ahead, game-winning touchdown with just over five minutes to play — and for USF’s Spencer Shrader to only barely fail to boot a game-tying field goal in the final minute after a terrible snap pushing the Bulls back nearly 20 yards and a terrible snap and hold that left the former soccer player booting a football that rested on its side — and nearly making the kick anyway.

It featured USF rushing for 286 yards, with both running back Brian Battie (150 yards, one touchdown) and quarterback Gerry Bohanon (102 yards, one TD) eclipsing the century mark and the yards per carry total only deflating to 6.2 because of waning efficiency late in the fourth quarter. The Bulls, well, bullied Florida’s Ventrell Miller-less defense on the ground, with a series of pre-snap shifts and post-snap pulls creating creases that were wriggled through and lanes that were sprinted down.

And it was not nearly the showcase for Anthony Richardson’s prodigious talents that was last year’s win over USF in Tampa — in which Richardson accounted for almost 300 yards of total offense on seven total touches. This time, Richardson threw for a modest 112 yards, completing just 10 of 18 passes to Gators, and managed to toss two baffling interceptions, one directly to a defender on a third down and another on a poor throw on first and goal after a series marked by rushing success.

That rushing success and Florida’s own ability to force turnovers were most of why the Gators won, rather than suffering a first regular-season defeat to a current in-state FBS team other than Florida State or Miami or taking the first losses to both UCF and USF in a span of four games.

Florida tallied its own 217 rushing yards efficiently, with Montrell Johnson (six carries, 102 yards, one TD) and Trevor Etienne (eight carries, 56 yards, one TD) helping the Gators average 7.2 yards per rush.

And Florida nabbed three turnovers, pouncing on an early USF fumble, getting a nifty pick-six from Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber just before halftime, and taking the ball away moments after Richardson’s second pick via a fine effort from Tre’Vez Johnson.

Without those plays, though, Florida would probably be waking up this Sunday to a 1-2 record — and a truly ignominious home loss to a program that has struggled mightily to return to respectability under Jeff Scott.

Florida head coach Billy Napier insisted in post-game remarks that USF was a respectable outfit on this night, and that was more or less true: Faced with some of the very same issues Florida is dealing with, most notably a leaky run defense and an inaccurate quarterback, the Bulls played to their strengths and almost came up with one of the biggest wins in school history.

But the Gators, as Napier has also said repeatedly, have a long, long way to go to regain whatever qualities they will need to dispatch teams decisively — and their inability to do so thus far this year suggests that those qualities may prove elusive this fall.