FINAL: Gators 49, McNeese 7

A quick recap from Florida’s runaway victory over McNeese in the home opener Saturday night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.


WHAT HAPPENED: The Gators took care of business in a “get-right” game against FCS-classified McNeese, crushing the Cowboys in the home opener Saturday night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Florida won its NCAA-best 34th consecutive home opener, a streak that started in 1990. Florida had to wait nine days to return to action after its disappointing loss at Utah to open the season. “You need a win,” head coach Billy Napier told ESPNU. “It’s been four games in a row without a win. I think it’s healthy for our kids. We needed to do some of the things we did tonight after what we did last week.” McNeese proved the perfect opponent for the Gators to work over and return to the win column. The Gators, after playing four consecutive games away from “The Swamp” dating to last season, won for the first time since they last played at home (a 38-6 win over South Carolina 10 months ago). Running back Montrell Johnson Jr. started the party with a 2-yard scoring run on the opening drive of the game. Quarterback Graham Mertz, the Wisconsin transfer playing his first game at home, added a 1-yard TD run on the Gators’ next drive, and it was 13-0 after the first quarter. Freshman running back Treyaun Webb (2-yard run) and sophomore Trevor Etienne (8 yards) added scoring runs in the second quarter to put the Gators in control, 26-0, at halftime. Florida refused to let up in the second half, as Johnson and Webb each added their second touchdown runs of the game, and Mertz connected with receiver Ricky Pearsall for a 50-yard TD pass late in the third quarter. McNeese avoided being shut out when Coleby Hamm scored on an 8-yard rush with 2:24 remaining. The Gators finished with 560 yards of offense and limited McNeese to 112. Mertz finished 14 of 17 for 193 yards and a touchdown. Johnson led the way on the ground, running for a team-high 119 yards and two scores.

during the Gators' game against the McNeese State Cowboys on Saturday, September 9, 2023 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. / UAA Communications photo by Jay Metz
Quarterback Graham Mertz hands off to running back Montrell Johnson Jr. Saturday night against McNeese. (Photo: Jay Metz/UAA Communications)

WHAT IT MEANS: The Gators snapped a four-game losing streak — their longest since a five-game skid in 2017 — and trampled the overmatched Cowboys as expected. The victory provides momentum heading into the start of conference play and helps wash away some of the bitter taste from their mistake-filled season-opening loss at Utah.

IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The running game. The offensive line. Special teams. Those areas were the most discussed following Florida’s loss at Utah. Overall, the Gators responded nicely other than perhaps on special teams, where a botched snap and hold on Florida’s first scoring drive cost the Gators a point. Running backs Johnson and Etienne, the backfield duo the offense revolves around, combined for 26 carries, 203 yards and three scores after being limited to 31 yards on 10 rushes in the loss at Utah. The Gators rushed for 327 yards total.

STAGGERING STATISTIC: The Gators scored touchdowns on their first seven offensive possessions. Florida did not punt until Jeremy Crawshaw booted a 51-yard kick on fourth down with a little more than nine minutes left in the game. The Gators’ shortest scoring drive of the night was 62 yards. The Gators scored on drives of 62, 99, 75, 74, 71, 84 and 62 yards.

UP NEXT: The Gators (1-1) host No. 9-ranked Tennessee (2-0) in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams. Tennessee pulled away from FCS foe Austin Peay in the second half for a 30-13 win at Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Vols quarterback Joe Milton III ran for a score and completed 21 of 33 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns.


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