Gators Chomp Outmanned McNeese; Break Four-Game Losing Skid

Ken Cross

September 13, 2023 at 12:08 pm.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Gators needed confidence after being dominated by Utah, 24-11, in a Week 1 game that was much more of an issue than the final point spread suggested.

That loss to the Utes in Salt Lake City seemed to be a carryover from last season when Florida lost its last three games and was manhandled by Oregon State, 30-3, in the Las Vegas Bowl.

When the McNeese Cowboys rode into the Swamp on Saturday evening, it didn’t matter to Florida that McNeese is an FCS team that was picked to finish in the middle of the Southland Conference.

The Gators, who had lost four games in a row, used the mismatch to try to bring positivity back into the team with a 49-7 win.

“They work hard the entire year for these opportunities, and I thought we had the right mindset early, both sides of the ball, and for the most part did what we should do,” said Florida head coach Billy Napier.

As Florida outgained McNeese, 560-112, in total yardage, it was important for the Gators to decisively dominate the Cowboys. Florida needs a solid mindset with the rigors of the SEC upcoming as the visit from No. 9 Tennessee is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. Eastern Time on ESPN.

“To go out and just dominate and just let all the work that we put in show,” said Gators linebacker Jaydon Hill. “Any time it’s a win, there are great vibes in the locker room, and it’s good to have that feeling.”

Gators players knew the importance of the domination of McNeese. The Cowboys fell to 0-2 after Tarleton State rolled up a 52-34 win over them in Week 1. The Texans had 554 total yards which was a prelude to the Gators getting those 560.

“Defensively speaking, I feel like just executing and just practicing hard every day and just putting it on tape really,” noted Hill on the Gators big plays, despite hosting an inferior opponent.


Florida’s Offensive Approach: Florida scored on its first seven possessions as the Gators rushed for 327 yards and running back Montrell Johnson had 15 carries for 119 yards to lead the Gators. 

The Gators’ running attack was a proven catalyst as Trevor Etienne (11-85-1) and Treyaun Webb (14-71-2) joined Johnson in giving Florida three running backs who were in attack mode.

The junior from New Orleans scored on the first drive from two yards out after he had runs of 19 and 11 yards to set up the score. He also gave Florida a 33-0 lead as he scored on an eight-yard run at the outset of the third quarter.

“I think just staying on schedule, creating favorable down and distances,” said Napier of the ability of the running attack. “I think third down was manageable for the most part, all night.”


Gators in the Air: Bringing Graham Mertz in from Wisconsin was a gamble as he threw 21 interceptions in the past two seasons combined. Mertz has a new offense to placate as he did not have a solid possession receiver in the Badgers’ offense. 

Now in The Swamp, Ricky Pearsall fits that role well.

Pearsall came over from Arizona State and led Florida in receiving last season with 33 catches for 661 yards and five touchdowns.

Saturday evening he totaled six catches for 123 yards which included a 50-yard TD catch from Mertz that gave Florida a 40-0 advantage with 3:45 left in the third quarter.

“I have full trust in him and he has full trust in me,” said Pearsall of Mertz. “It’s always good when we hit on a big play like that.”

Florida will need balance on offense inside the SEC with Tennessee on the horizon before the immediacy of road trips to Kentucky and South Carolina which occur in the middle of the schedule.

Obviously, the Gators didn’t go deep into their playbook with very many variations against an outmanned opponent in the Cowboys.

The running game and flat passes to the left and right were the impetus of how Florida used ball control to run its offense and control the ball for 36:09.

“We have guys like 2 (Montrell Johnson) and 7 (Trevor Etienne) who are extremely good and gifted athletes,” explained Pearsall. “I think just getting the ball in their hands early, you can’t go wrong with that. Just getting the running game going early, I think it helps the passing game.”


What about the Florida vs. McNeese Matchup? As we have already noted, this was a mismatch that all people on both sides tell you that the payment from the Gators will help the Cowboys run their athletic programs.  

On the field, it’s a mismatch that gets buried in the scores and reports. The key is that playing the game, itself, is kind of a walk-through for generally any of the FBS teams.

These appear across the board in college football and truthfully, the best way to handle these games is to allow each FBS university to adopt an FCS team.

They pay them per adoption, but the games are not played between the two teams, per se. This is not about the Gators-Cowboys game, but about all FBS-FCS encounters.

We are in an era where the transfer portal and NIL dominate the chatter in college sports as well as the usual ongoing continual lapse in all parts of the NCAA. Matchups on the field need to be compelling and with the 12-team playoff finally getting here next season, the steadiness of each game should be an objective inside of football.

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