GAINESVILLE, Fla. — We can officially turn the page to Tennessee week.
The No. 23 Florida Gators wrapped up the first half of their nonconference schedule Saturday with a 32-0 win over North Texas. The defense pitched its first shutout of the season and allowed the fewest yards (53) in school history.
Turning point: Luke Del Rio’s injury. It lit a fire under UF coach Jim McElwain and his players. After turning it over on downs to end the half and two unsuccessful drives to start the third quarter, the Gators marched right down the field for a touchdown to put the game out of reach for the Mean Green.
Questions answered: The question this week was could UF match — or surpass — the offensive production it had against Kentucky. The unit was productive from a yards standpoint but did not do well in a couple key areas. Two drives into the red zone resulted in zero points, as the Gators elected to go for it twice on fourth down and failed to convert. And after completing 70 percent of their third-down conversions last week, they started 3 for 9 against North Texas and could not sustain drives. Del Rio finished with 186 passing yards in three quarters and completed more than 50 percent of his passes but threw an awful interception and missed a handful of throws. He also got hit several times in the pocket as Florida’s offensive line struggled picking up blitzes and stunts.
Questions looming: Obviously the No. 1 concern for the Gators is the health of Del Rio and wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who sat out Saturday with a quad injury. McElwain commented on Del Rio after the game, saying his injury “doesn’t look great.” Backup quarterback Austin Appleby led the offense on two touchdown drives after Del Rio went down, so that should help his confidence if he gets the start at Tennessee. Regardless of who plays quarterback, will the Gators lean on the ground game against the Vols? Florida’s stable of running backs are the strength of the offense and they showed that again Saturday. All four ball carriers scored a touchdown and they totaled 244 rushed yards.
Statistically speaking: Florida’s 7 sacks against North Texas are the most by the Gators since the Tennessee game in 1999. Future NFL defensive end Alex Brown had 5 sacks that night.
What it means: The offense wasn’t humming Saturday like it did against Kentucky, but the production was there and will improve when Callaway returns. But if Florida’s defense keeps playing like this, it won’t matter what the other side of the ball does.