Behind Enemy Lines: Florida Gators (2024)

The 2024 Kentucky football season is right around the corner. You’ve kept close tabs on what’s happened around Mark Stoops’ program. Now KSR is speaking with folks who closely cover the opponents Kentucky will face this fall.

Kentucky has defeated Florida in three straight seasons. What a time to be alive. Billy Napier is in the middle of a pressure cooker entering his third season in Gainesville. With a daunting schedule, Nick de la Torre from Gators Online shares what he expects to see from the Gators this fall.

Behind Enemy Lines:Tennessee,Auburn, Georgia

1. For Florida to get where it wants to go, who needs to step up for the Gators?

On offense, it has to be the offensive line. Florida’s offensive line was a mess in 2023 and it resulted in 31 sacks and running backs breaking tackles just to get back to the line of scrimmage. If the Gators are going to be able to do anything on offense the offensive line has to be better.

Can I say the whole defense? Florida’s defense was 11th in scoring (27.6) and total defense (382.3). They were also 12th in rushing yards allowed (155.58). They allowed 38.3 points per game over their last six games of the season and 477.5 yards per game over that span, including half a hundred plus two to LSU and 701 yards from the Tigers’ offense.

It was shockingly bad. The defense added a ton of new players through the transfer portal and they should be better, not that it’s a high bar to step over.

2. Can the Gators withstand life after Trevor Etienne?

When Trevor Etienne decided to transfer I said it would be worse for the perception of the program than actual production. Leaving certainly hurt Florida’s perception and then going to Georgia twisted the knife while simultaneously pouring salt into the open wound.

Don’t get me wrong, Etienne is a talented running back and he will help any offense that he’s in but Florida’s backfield is still a strength, in my opinion. Montrell Johnson returns for his senior season and he should go over the 3,000-yard career mark this season. Treyaun Webb looked good in limited carries and Florida brought in two really talented running backs in Jadan Baugh and KD Daniels. Florida’s running back room is talented, with or without Etienne.

Behind Enemy Lines: Florida Gators (1)

3. Who are some players we aren’t talking about enough?

Eugene Wilson is somehow going under the radar. I really haven’t seen much talk outside of Gainesville about the receiver who had 61 catches for 538 yards and six touchdowns last year. I think Wilson will benefit from the Gators landing Elijhah Badger in the transfer portal. Badger is a guy who should help take some of the attention off of Wilson, who is electric with the ball in his hands and a player on offense that I expect Florida will feed the ball to all year.

Defensively, Devin Moore is a player that could become a household name. Moore has missed 50 percent of the games he’s been on campus for with injuries, but when he’s healthy he’s an NFL talent-level cornerback.

Sticking with defense, I’m interested to see how Justus Boone plays this year. He tore his ACL during a scrimmage in fall camp and missed the year. He’ll be tasked with replacing Princely Umanmielen, who led Florida in tackles for loss and sacks in each of the past two seasons. The Gators need him to be really good and get to the quarterback.

One last one is Grayson ‘Pup’ Howard, who transferred in from South Carolina. Florida missed out on him initially, something that seems to keep happening, but Howard found his way back to his home state after just one year at South Carolina. I think he’s going to start next to Shemar James at middle linebacker. Linebacker was a weak spot on Florida’s defense — if we’re being honest the entire defense was a weak spot — but Howard is an upgrade there for sure.

4. The Florida schedule is a bear. Have expectations been adjusted, or does it even matter?

I said the same thing last year. Florida needs to catch wins early because they’re going to catch hands late. I think the November schedule is brutal (Georgia, at Texas, LSU, Ole Miss, at Florida State) and maybe has two wins in it? Florida could start the year 6-0 and end up 6-6, it’s that kind of schedule.

I’ll play devil’s advocate though. The Gators will only leave the state three times this season. Florida gets to play Texas A&M at home and early with a new staff. One of their road games is against a new staff at Mississippi State and a roster that, on paper, shouldn’t give Florida too much trouble. At Tennessee will be a critical game. After winning 16-of-17, Florida has split the last two matchups against Tennessee. The Gators have been two different programs at home and on the road, they’re an abject disaster away from the Swamp with a 2-10 record in Napier’s tenure. A win on Rocky Top would be huge for Napier.

They get LSU at home and without the No. 2 overall pick and two other first-round receivers. They also finish at FSU but it’s an FSU team looking to replace nine guys who were drafted.

Devil’s advocate over, I think Florida’s ceiling is 7 wins and could see them, if things don’t go their way or injuries pile up, missing another bowl game.

5. Mark Stoops has a knack for getting other SEC coaches fired. Coach O, Jeremy Pruitt, and Dan Mullen all got pink slips after losing to Kentucky. Could that happen if the Cats win again in The Swamp?

I might have been the only person in the country who predicted Florida would beat Tennessee and lose to Kentucky last year — at least that’s what Paul Finebaum told me.

I have a lot of admiration for what Mark Stoops has built and I can kind of see Nick Mingione doing it on the diamond as well. When Stoops got to UK he wasn’t going to compete with the Alabamas, Georgias and Floridas in terms of getting skill players. They recruit, develop, and play to a physical identity and they do it damn well. Stoops is a great gameday coach as well and I don’t know that I can say that about Billy Napier. I picked Kentucky to win last year because I think Napier wants his offense to look like Kentucky or like Michigan and that is going to excite exactly zero Florida fans. Florida tried to play that style last year and it was a terrible decision.

I don’t think that Napier will get fired if they lose to Kentucky but it would be the first time Florida has had a senior class leave school without beating Kentucky since 1948-1951.No Florida coach has ever started their career with three losses to Kentucky. That’s not the kind of history Billy Napier wants to make.

Behind Enemy Lines: Florida Gators (2024)
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