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Abolverdi's Analysis: FAU will be improved, but Florida will be too much

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
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Then Florida State coach Willie Taggart, left, and Florida coach Dan Mullen shake hands after Florida defeated Florida State 41-14 in Tallahassee on Nov. 24, 2018.

After a 10-game, SEC-only schedule last year, the Gators open the 2021 season Saturday night with their first of two consecutive non-conference opponents. 

Fourth-year UF coach Dan Mullen will have his second meeting against Willie Taggart, who’s entering his second season at Florida Atlantic. Mullen won the previous matchup, 41-14 in 2018, when Taggart was the head coach at Florida State. 

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He led FAU to a 5-4 record last year, ending it on a three-game losing streak after winning four consecutive. While the Owls may not be in the same league as Florida — as a conference and as a program — they can’t be overlooked by Mullen’s team. 

Taggart’s roster, though overmatched, is still loaded with Sunshine State talent, and the last FAU team that came into The Swamp gave the Gators a run for their money. The Owls took them to overtime in 2015 and UF needed a touchdown pass to avoid the upset, 20-14. 

Saturday’s game won’t be a nail-biter, but Florida Atlantic will be better offensively and its defense should provide a good test for quarterback Emory Jones in his first career start. 

The Owls have a new starting quarterback (Miami transfer N’Kosi Perry) and a new offensive coordinator (former Taggart assistant Michael Johnson) after ranking 112th nationally in total offense last season. 

Perry, an Ocala native, gets another shot Saturday to play against the Gators after not getting that opportunity at Miami. The Hurricanes started Jarren Williams over Perry in their 24-20 loss to UF in the 2019 opener.

The Gators sacked Williams 10 times in that game, and their front-seven could be just as dominant against Perry and FAU’s front. Florida’s pass rush will get pressure on Perry all game and force him into some bad throws. 

Owls first-year defensive coordinator Mike Stoops inherits a group that was a top-25 unit in 2020, ranking 16th nationally in pass defense. They didn’t face an SEC passing attack, however, and Jones and his receiving corps will have success against their secondary. 

But expect the Gators to establish the run right away, build an early lead and let their bevy of backs wear down FAU in the second half. This game will go more like Mullen's first game against Taggart than Florida's last matchup with the Owls.  

Prediction: Florida 41, FAU 13.

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