Florida Gators

Gators passing game shows life in comfy win over Vandy

todayOctober 7, 2023



By Hays Carlyon

GAINESVILLE – Florida quarterback Graham Mertz made a detour before running to the end zone.

He had a give his head coach Billy Napier an emphatic high five.

The two obviously needed a good night through the air. They got it in a 38-14 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday in The Swamp.

Mertz connected with tight end Arlis Boardingham on a 15-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter. The play was set up well and Boardingham was wide open.

Mertz wasted no time running 20 yards to the sideline to embrace Napier, who has drawn criticism as his own play caller.

The touchdown gave the Gators (4-2, 2-1) a 24-point lead. Mertz finished the game 30 of 36 for 254 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

There still isn’t any sign of a downfield passing game. The season is halfway over and you can count on one hand how many passes that travelled 40 yards in the air.

However, no one can quibble with Saturday’s numbers. Napier and Mertz would (and should) take them any Saturday.

The running game will always be the focal point of Napier’s attack and it was on point against the Commodores. Running back Montrell Johnson gained 135 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown. True freshman running back Treyaun Webb broke a 43-yard run, finishing with 70 yards on four carries.

Receiver Tre Wilson continues to make an impact. The true freshman caught eight passes for 64 yards and a touchdown.

Boardingham, a redshirt freshman, was a revelation, catching seven passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns.

The offense has plenty to celebrate, especially considering the Gators were without left tackle Austin Barbor, center Kingsley Eguakun and running back Trevor Etienne.

The second half of the season will be a massive challenge. The Gators travel to face South Carolina on Saturday. The Gamecocks enjoyed a bye this week.

Georgia awaits in Jacksonville. The Gators then host Arkansas before consecutive road games at LSU and Missouri before the finale against Florida State in the Swamp.

It isn’t inconceivable that the Gators will only be favored in the Arkansas game. A 3-3 finish would be welcomed at this point by most rationale Florida fans.

The Gators have to hope that Saturday was a step forward for the offense. If the unit can get healthy, there could be something here.

Mertz is efficient and dependable.

Johnson and Etienne are a dynamic combo.

Receiver Ricky Pearsall is a consistent play maker. He ran for a 14-yard touchdown on Saturday and caught four passes. If Wilson and Boardingham can continue to shine, there is enough skill for UF to still have a chance to surprise.

Having Barbor and Eguakun back is paramount.

The Gators seem to have something good on defense. They’ve played five good games and one bad one (Kentucky).

The offense is the mystery. While it will never be explosive this season, the Gators are showing they might have the components to be steady.


(You can email Hays at [email protected] and follow him on X/Twitter @HaysCarlyon).


Written by: Hays Carlyon

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