Rare Sunday game ends with predictable outcome and that's good for Florida | David Whitley

David Whitley
Gator Sports
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If the Florida Gators could sum up their game Sunday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in one phrase, it would be a simple one.

Thanks, we needed that.

After a week filled with far too much drama and dread, it was nice to have a ho-hum afternoon. Weird, but nice.

The weirdness, of course, was actually playing a game on a Sunday. The only other time that’s happened was two years before Billy Napier was born.

The niceness for the 43-year-old coach was seeing pretty much everything he wanted to see from the Gators. They ho-hummed their way to a 52-17 win, despite all the weirdness.

“Think about what we were walking into here,” Napier said. “Sunday at 12 noon. FCS opponent from across the country.”

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Backups have big moments

Gators wide receiver Caleb Douglas (12) catches a pass from quarterback Jalen Kitna (11) for a touchdown during the second half Sunday.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying it wasn’t easy to get psyched for Eastern Washington at a time when players are usually tuning in to see the NFL pregame shows. Throw in the fact it wasn’t exactly peak Swamp.

The announced crowd was 72,462, though a few thousand came disguised as empty seats. All this was due to Hurricane Ian, of course. And fitting enough, the first people Napier spoke about after the game were the workers who helped stage Sunday special.

Then he urged fans to donate to hurricane relief funds. Then he started throwing out names like Jalen Kitna, Caleb Douglas, Justus Boone and others that aren’t normally topics of post-game conversation.

They all had big moments Sunday, which meant the day went as planned for UF. It was the first game of the Napier Era decided by more than one score. Unless the Eagles somehow concocted a 36-point play on their final drive, there was nothing to keep fans in their seats until the end.

It’s hard to look overly impressive playing a Football Championship Subdivision team, but you can look bad. Goodness knows, the Gators did in last year’s defensive cataclysm against Samford.

The Bulldogs had 42 points by halftime. The Eagles could play every Sunday until next April and not score 42 points against the Gators.

Oh, they started with a couple of nice drives. Then Florida’s defense adjusted and clamped down until totally emptying the bench in the fourth quarter.

That’s not to say the Eagles didn’t deserve a hearty round of applause to go along with their $750,000 check from the University Athletic Association. But FCS teams operate with 63 scholarships and a lot of spunk.

EWU’s football budget of $5.1 million is $2.4 million less than Napier gets paid a year. Anything less than a blowout would have been a moral defeat for UF.

It was a day to dabble, and what the Gators needed to see was a lot of young players in action, and nobody to limp off the field hurt. Anthony Richardson needed to keep developing chemistry with his receivers. The Gators’ first play of the game was a chemical combustion, with Richardson hitting Justin Shorter for a 75-yard TD.

He tried a similar bomb to start the second half. It was underthrown and intercepted, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I think it’ll be good for him to realize, ‘Hey, look. I played a whole half. I did exactly what I was supposed to do. And then, the first play of the second half I force the ball’,” Napier said. “He’ll be sick to his stomach when sees it on tape.”

Richardson completed 8 of 10 passes for 240 yards, but the QB buzz on Sunday went to Kitna. Florida finally had the luxury of putting in a backup, and the redshirt freshman completed 8 of 12 passes for 152 yards and one TD.

Sure, nobody’s going to mistake Eastern Washington’s defense for Georgia’s. But at least the Gators know they have a functioning QB alternative until Jack Miller’s broken thumb mends.

“I just went out there and did my job,” Kitna said.

As did pretty much everybody else. The starters built a big lead. The offense rolled up 666 yards total offense. Numerologists can interpret that any way they wish.

On Sunday, it led to Florida emptying the bench and sending 81 players into the game. They provided fans with a palatable football sundae on Sunday.

“Sometimes the opponent doesn’t matter,” Napier said. “It’s about your energy, your focus, your intensity.”

The Gators had more than enough on a less-than-intense afternoon. It should all help when Missouri comes to town on Saturday. From here on out, the opponents will definitely matter.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at dwhitley@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley.

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