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Utah Utes Skin the Florida Gators 24-11 to Kick Off Week 1


The Utah Utes hosted the Florida Gators on Thursday night, and it took less than two minutes for the Utes to hang a Gator skin on Kyle Whittingham’s office wall. Utah received the opening kickoff, and on the first offensive play, the Utes gave the fans something to cheer about and never looked back.


Game Summary and Notes

Coming into the game, Utah had won 14 straight at home and 25 of the last 26 games at Rice-Eccles Stadium. QB Cam Rising couldn’t go for Utah, so Bryson Barnes got the start. On the first play from scrimmage, Barnes hit WR Money Parks on a 70-yard touchdown strike to take an early 7-0 lead.

The Utes rotated QB Nate Johnson into the action as well. Johnson showed his dual-threat skills by scoring on a 27-yard run to put the Utes up 14-3. Utah later converted a field goal and took a 17-3 lead into the locker room at halftime.

Later in the 3rd quarter, Barnes was flushed out of the pocket against man-to-man coverage and ran 5 yards untouched for another touchdown for Utah to increase their lead to 24-3. Florida managed somehow to score again in the fourth quarter and then scored on a 2-point conversion to cut the lead to 24-11.


Florida couldn’t get out of their own way, with poor execution and lack of focus (9 penalties) in the red zone, aided by an extremely loud student section that registered 104 decibels. The Gators’ situational playcalling was horrible. For example, running bubble screens in traffic on 3rd and 22 gained only short yardage. Florida was 1 for 13 on 3rd down conversion attempts against that vaunted Utah run defense.


The Gators dealt with poor field position most of the night, as the Utah punt team consistently kept Florida pinned inside their own 20-yard line.


Florida starting QB Graham Mertz was sacked five times. The Gators' playbook section that covers the rushing attack apparently got torn out and thrown out the window of the team bus on the way to the stadium. Florida rushed for an unlucky grand total of 13 yards, averaging a paltry 2 yards per rush. The Gators defense registered zero sacks and zero INTs.


The Play of the Game

Obviously, the 70-yard touchdown on the first play of the game for Utah. A great play call that was a dagger to the heart of the Gators that would not be overcome.


Florida Gators - Game MVPs

Mertz passed for 333 yards, one TD, and one INT. He completed 70% of his passes. Shemar James led the Gators' defense with 13 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.


Utah Utes - Game MVPs

Utah Offensive Coordinator Andy Ludwig gets my vote for dialing up the deep pass to score on the first play of the game. The Utes defense recorded five sacks, seven tackles for loss, and one INT.


What Does the Loss Mean for Florida?

This was a huge missed opportunity for the Gators to get a signature win against a Top-15 opponent that was missing their QB1. Florida must regroup and work hard to minimize the penalties and get better at protecting Mertz. They have to figure out how to improve the vertical passing game and get Ricky Pearsall more touches on the perimeter. They host FCS-member McNeese State on September 9.


What Does the Win Mean for Utah?

The Utes showed the country why they are the two-time PAC-12 champions and took a step closer to their goal of a College Football Playoff appearance. Yes, there is a lot of football left to be played but the defense already looks to be in midseason form. Utah travels to take on Baylor on September 9.


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