Looking to rebound, Florida faces McNeese in home opener

Looking to rebound, Florida faces McNeese in home opener

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Florida returns home after a season-opening road defeat to face Football Championship Subdivision opponent McNeese on Saturday night in Gainesville.

The Gators, who lead the FBS with 33 consecutive home opener victories, lost 24-11 at then-No. 14 Utah on Aug. 31.

Florida outgained the Utes overall 346-270 but managed just 13 rushing yards on 21 attempts. The Southeastern Conference’s Gators also gained just one rushing first down.

“We were behind the sticks quite a bit in the game,” second-year Florida coach Billy Napier said Monday. “Negative plays are the enemy. When it’s second-and-long, third-and-long, it’s tough sledding. We’ve got to play better on first and second down.”

Lack of success on early downs against the Utes contributed to the Gators converting just 1 of 13 third-down attempts.

“We’re living in third-and-long and that’s not where we want to live,” Napier said. “We want to live in third-and-manageable.”

Florida’s Trevor Etienne (seven carries, 25 yards) and Montrell Johnson Jr. (three carries, 6 yards) figure to have more success against McNeese.

Quarterback Graham Mertz, a redshirt-junior transfer from Wisconsin, completed 31 of 44 passes for 333 yards, one TD and one interception. He also was sacked five times.

Linebacker Shemar James had 13 tackles (six solo) to lead Florida’s defense.

McNeese’s visit to The Swamp will mark the teams’ first meeting, and it also will begin a string of three straight road games for coach Gary Goff’s team.

The Southland Conference’s Cowboys were defeated 52-34 by visiting Tarleton State of the Western Athletic Conference in Saturday night’s season opener in Lake Charles, La.

McNeese’s Nate Glantz (15 of 35, 166 yards) played most of the game before being relieved by Tre Simmons (3 of 6, 23 yards), who threw a late pick-six.

“I think (Nate) was trying too hard, wanting to make a big play every time out there. And we talked about that, we just said, ‘Take what they give us,’ ” said Goff, in his second year as McNeese coach. “We were off. We definitely were. We were not sharp in the passing game.”

The Cowboys also struggled defensively, surrendering 554 yards of total offense and 35 unanswered second-half points.

Saturday’s game will be the third time McNeese faces an SEC team. The Cowboys are 0-2 against LSU, losing in 2010 and 2021.

—Field Level Media

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.