USF hosting Gators for first time with near sell-out crowd expected
No. 9 Florida faces its first road test of the season today at USF, which marks the second meeting between the two in-state programs.
The Gators (1-0) first played South Florida (0-1) in 2010, a 38-14 win in The Swamp. Eleven years later, it’s the Bulls’ turn to host UF for the first time.
Today will be Florida’s first regular-season contest in Tampa since 1989 against Mississippi State.
“I think here in the state of Florida, this game’s a big game,” Gators coach Dan Mullen said of the USF matchup. “Going to be a big game obviously for us, a fun game. Guys are going to know each other, a lot of Florida players on the rosters.
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“The opportunity when you get to play these in-state games, that’s what happens. Obviously going into a tough, hostile environment down in Tampa with the USF fans.”
A near sell-out crowd is expected at Raymond James Stadium, which seats 65,857. Only a few hundred tickets remained as of Friday, so Florida quarterback Emory Jones will get a full house for his first career road start.
“I kind of heard it’s gonna be sold out,” Jones said, “so I’m looking forward to a packed crowd. I’m expecting it to be loud. I’m just focused on the game plan and making sure our guys are ready.”
The redshirt junior hopes to have a better showing vs. USF after his up-and-down performance in a 35-14 win over Florida Atlantic to open the season. He looked sharp on the first two touchdown drives, but threw interceptions in the second and third quarter.
Redshirt freshman QB Anthony Richardson stole the show in the fourth quarter with a 73-yard touchdown run and his hurdle over an FAU defensive back. Jones and Richardson accounted for 234 of Florida’s 400 rushing yards.
Both quarterbacks will play against the Bulls, though it’s important for Jones to gain confidence ahead of the SEC opener against No. 1 Alabama.
“Both of their quarterbacks are tremendous. Those guys, anytime that they pull the ball, they have a chance to score at any moment,” South Florida coach Jeff Scott said of Jones and Richardson. “They’re both very similar in the fact that they’re excellent runners and they both can throw the ball and stretch the ball down the field. I think it’s a bigger challenge if you have one that’s maybe a pro-style, just drop-back passer, and that’s all he does, and the other guy’s a runner. I think with that, you have to split up your prep.
“But with both of those guys being super athletic, they love having the ball in their hands, and both of them can score anytime that they pull the ball. We’re kind of preparing for the same quarterback, regardless of either of those guys. You watch the film, both of them are very, very similar in a lot of things that they do.”
Scott and the Bulls also have two options at quarterback in true freshman Timmy McClain and redshirt sophomore Cade Fortin, a North Carolina transfer who started the first game. Fortin had just 41 yards through the air and an interception on 7-of-20 passing in USF’s 45-0 loss to NC State.
Midway through the second quarter, McClain made his collegiate debut and took over behind center. He finished with better numbers, throwing for 126 yards on 7-of-13 passing, but was picked off twice.
Fortin will get the nod again today, but Scott plans to use McClain as well.
“They played a very, very good team in NC State. A team that might be one of the best teams in their conference,” Mullen said of South Florida’s Week 1 loss. “But then you read stuff in the paper, I’ve already seen their players come out saying this is like the biggest game they’ve had there and they have been circling it for years. And so, you look at that, it’s gonna be a different type of team that we see this week maybe than we saw from them last week.”
Gators going for shutout
The Bulls have been blanked in three of their last four games against Power 5 teams, losing 52-0 at Notre Dame last season and 49-0 to Wisconsin in 2019. Defensive tackle Gervon Dexter admits the Gators are aiming for a shutout today.
“Oh yeah, most definitely,” Dexter said. “That’s usually the plan for our defense no matter who we’re playing. That’s definitely a goal for us.
“Most of it is just doing what Coach [Todd] Grantham and our coaches ask us to do. It definitely feels good when you can execute the play calls and just get out there and get some stops.”
Florida’s defense pitched three shutouts in 2019 against UT Martin (45-0), Towson (38-0) and Vanderbilt (56-0), but didn’t hold any opponent to single digits last season. FAU was scoreless against the Gators until late in the fourth quarter.
“I was pleased with our effort. I think that we're moving in the right direction,” Grantham said of his unit. “When you can go into the fourth quarter not giving up any points — because at the end of the day the most important thing is not giving up any points — that's a good thing. And as we went through the fourth quarter, we kind of gave some young guys some opportunities to see what they can do.
“We also took some other guys and kind of moved them to other positions to let them give us some flexibility. And it was good for those guys to get the experience. So we were able to get some things out there with them to kind of clean up, and that’s what we focused on to help ourselves moving forward so we can be the kind of defense we want to be.”
Who: No. 9 Florida (1-0) vs. South Florida (0-1)
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
Radio: AM-850, 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM