USF gives Florida far more fits than expected in 31-28 Gators escape | David Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports

Better lucky than good.

That’s about the best thing you could say about the Gators on Saturday night. They were lucky to beat USF – yes USF – 31-28 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. None of the 88,496 fans left thinking Florida is very good.

If anything, the Gators have regressed every week. The team that upset No. 7 Utah in the opener could not stop the Bulls, who aren’t ranked in the top 100 in anyone’s poll.

At least that was my impression. Billy Napier didn’t quite see it that way.

“Thankful to win,” he said. “I told the team I don’t think people know how much goes into that.”

Game recap:No. 21 Florida Gators survive scare against South Florida, 31-28, in Swamp

Great escape:No. 21 Florida Gators survive USF scare 31-28. Here are our takeaways.

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He’s not into rankings and comparing opponents, and the Bulls did play a lot better than most imagined they were capable of. How much of that was them being underrated? And how much was UF allowing them to come within a couple of bad snaps of an epic upset?

“We made it hard,” Napier said. “But I tell you what, a lot of that had to do with South Florida."

It certainly did at the end as the Bulls drove for a potential winning TD. A low snap sent the Bulls out of comfortable field goal range. That forced them to attempt a 48-yard attempt with 10 seconds left.

That snap was low and forced the holder to awkwardly place the ball. Spencer Shrader still managed to get off a line drive that sailed wide right.

Considering how the previous 59 minutes went, UF was lucky to be in that spot. The defense gave up 402 yards of total offense and forced only one punt.

The Gators were saved by turnovers, big plays and good fortune. Jalen Kimber returned an interception 39 yards for a score. And Montrell Johnson had a 62-yard TD run on the way to a 103-yard rushing night.

Was Johnson surprised at how well the Bulls hung with UF?

“I was really surprised,” he said. “We’ve got to get better as a team, you know. I don’t think they can play with us.”

What was the mood in the locker room afterward?

“It was kind of like we lost,” Johnson said.

It would be easy to conjure excuses for the near-death experience. After playing emotional games against top-20 teams, it might have been hard to get pumped for the Bulls.

Ventrell Miller sat out with a lower-body injury. Heck, maybe the Gators were still bummed over the Queen’s death.

We’ve also seen teams like Appalachian State and Marshall beat Big Boy programs, but the Sun Belt Principle doesn’t apply here.

Those teams are pretty good. Nobody’s used that terminology with USF.

They were 4-23 in their previous 27 games. They’d beaten one Power Five school in coach Jeff Scott’s three years. The Bulls’ win over Howard was blah, and BYU blasted them 50-21 in their opener.

The same BYU that lost 41-20 Saturday to Oregon. The same Oregon that Georgia crushed 49-3. UF fans don’t want to do the comparative math on that.

Good teams should have no problem with weaker teams; Gators struggled

The point is good teams don’t need excuses. Tennessee’s played Ball State and Akron and beaten them by a combined score of 122-13. That should make for some sobering film sessions this week at the UF football complex.

The viewing won’t be quite as foreboding at Tennessee, especially if the Vols sense Miller will not play in Knoxville. Then there’s another mystery.

How will Anthony Richardson play?

Saturday was his first start against an unranked team, but Richardson again struggled with his reads and accuracy. He never saw USF linebacker Dwayne Boyles lurking in the middle of the field, waiting to pick off a crossing-route pass. He also threw an interception in the end zone to kill another drive.

The Gators have now gone 12 quarters without a TD pass. Let that sink in.

“Everyone knows we can play better,” Johnson said.

They’d better start showing it, because next week they’re going to need more than luck to beat Tennessee. They need to be good.