Sin City Stumble: 5 takeaways from Florida's 30-3 loss to No. 16 Oregon State in Las Vegas Bowl
LAS VEGAS — At least Florida didn't get shut out.
That's the best thing that can be said as the shorthanded Gators suffered their most lopsided loss of the season, falling 30-3 to No. 16 Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl at Allegiant Stadium.
Florida avoided a shutout — barely — when Adam Mihalek connected on a 40-yard field goal with 37 seconds remaining. That extended Florida's streak of not being shut out to 435 straight games, which leads all of FBS.
The loss dropped the Gators to 6-7 in head coach Billy Napier's first season with plenty of work to do heading into year two. Florida played without four key starters — quarterback Anthony Richardson, All-American guard O'Cyrus Torrence, wide receiver Justin Shorter and linebacker Ventrell Miller — who all opted out of the game to declare for the NFL draft.
Napier defended the decision to send Mihalek out to kick the field goal in the closing seconds on the fourth-and-23 play.
"What are the percentages of having success on fourth and that? So, take the points, give Adam a chance to get some experience," Napier said.
Whitley on Florida's loss:Florida gets swamped in the desert, falling to Oregon State in Las Vegas Bowl - Whitley
Oregon State (10-4) wrapped up its first 10-win season since 2006. OSU quarterback Ben Gulbranson, who passed for 165 yards and one TD and rushed for another TD, was named Las Vegas Bowl MVP.
Here are five takeaways:
A tough starting debut for QB Jack Miller
Florida quarterback Jack Miller was unable to take advantage of his opportunity to make an impression as a potential starter for next season. Miller completed 13 of 22 passes for 180 yards. He led Florida on drives of 51 and 39 yards in the first half, but one ended with a Mihalek missed 52-yard field goal and another ended up turning the ball over on downs. It didn't help that Miller was on his back for a good portion of the game, as he was sacked four times and pressured throughout.
"You think about what he was asked to do, obviously had the thumb injury at the end of training camp to get back four or five weeks ago, really the first time to start and just reps to get ready for this game," Napier said. "I know he hasn’t been taking any (No. 2) reps for a long time. I thought he showed some toughness and grit, obviously made some plays but he also, there’s things he can do better."
Gators can't get ground game going
Oregon State's run defense, ranked 20th nationally and second in the Pac-12 at 114.0 yards per game, completely smothered Florida on the ground.
The Gators wound up with just 39 yards rushing on 33 carries. Clearly, Florida missed the run-blocking ability of Torrence.
Penalties a problem
For the third straight game, Florida had issues playing clean. The Gators were flagged 11 times.
A key penalty came in the third quarter when Antwaun Powel-Ryland jumped offside on a third-and-5 play, keeping an Oregon State 10-play, 64-yard TD drive alive. In the first half, back-to-back false start penalties on right guard Kamryn Waites and left tackle Richard Gouraige dropped Florida back 10 yards from Oregon State's 32 to the 42-yard line, stalling momentum on a drive that ended with Mihalek's missed 52-yard field goal attempt.
"It’s been an area where we’ve made a lot of improvement," Napier said. "Procedure penalties, those are things that frustrate coaches and those are things I don’t know if we’ve had that many in an entire season right much less one game. Something we need to take a close look at there and see where we can help the players.”
A mixed bag on special teams
Florida cornerback Jordan Young came up with a big play to end the first half when he broke through the line to block a 27-yard field goal attempt by Everett Hayes, keeping the score 10-0 at halftime. It was the first blocked field goal for the Gators since Adam Shuler blocked a kick against Towson on Sept. 28, 2019, a string of 46 games.
But in the third quarter, on a fourth-and-2 play, Oregon State executed a fake punt on special teams, with up back Jack Colletto rushing 11 yards.
"We're in what we would call a little bit more of a conservative call there, that is 'Fake Sam'," Napier said. "But I don't know that we executed it well. Truth be known, we should have left punt safe out there. That's my fault. But they executed their fake on fourth-and-2 at midfield, and that possession led to points. So, I think that's coaching, right? I've got to do a better job for our team."
The fake punt kept a 10-play, 64-yard TD drive to start the third quarter that put OSU up 17-0.
WR Ricky Pearsall a bright spot
Wide receiver Ricky Pearsall was one of the few bright spots for the Gators in the bowl game with four catches for 65 yards. Pearsall is an offensive piece the Gators can build around for next season, but more playmakers will need to emerge for Florida to make progress in 2023.
However, following the game, Pearsall was non-committal about his return for next season.
"There's a lot of aspects that go into it," Pearsall said. "But, you know, I'm still thinking about it, being patient with it. But I love being here, and I think that's a really important aspect for my decision. I love Coach and all my teammates, so I'm proud of these guys."