#7 Utah opens their season on the road against unranked Florida in “the Swamp”. The Utes impressed last year with a 10-4 record, which included convincing wins over Oregon (twice), USC, and Arizona State. They also went toe to toe with Ohio State in the Rose Bowl before narrowly losing 48-45.
Florida, on the other hand, disappointed by going 6-7 overall and 2-6 in SEC play. Due to this lackluster season, head coach Dan Mullen was replaced by Billy Napier, who thrived as the head coach of Louisiana. Will Napier start his Florida career with a resume win over Utah? The Gators odds can be found below, as well as picks and predictions.
Utah vs. Florida Odds
Surprisingly, Florida is barely an underdog despite facing the 7th ranked team in the country. With the spread being offered at +2.5 or +3, they don’t have much breathing room to cover. Even the most optimistic Gator fans cannot be content with a moneyline that has settled around only +125. Because the spread and moneyline are unexpected, this matchup’s game lines hold plenty of value.
Utah vs. Florida Prediction & Pick
While Utah’s -145 moneyline is decent, it’s worth giving 2.5 points to Florida for the -113 odds. Cameron Rising flashed massive upside as a dual-threat quarterback who excels throwing on the run. He displayed excellent lateral quickness on scrambles, and his deep throws possessed tremendous touch. Rising’s reliable tight ends Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid return, while 6’4” WR Devaughn Vele (16.9 yards per reception) will stretch the field. Utah finally has a passing offense that nearly rivals their deadly ground game.
RB Tavion Thomas (6’2”, 221 lbs) bulldozed defenders to the tune of 1,108 yards and 21 TD on 5.4 yards per carry. He fights through loose tackles and keeps his legs churning for plenty of yards after contact. Thomas doesn’t offer any pass catching upside, but RB Micah Bernard fills this Swiss Army knife role. He’s a versatile weapon who can turn a checkdown into a first down. Both running backs are also boosted by a gritty offensive line that creates lanes. Nick Ford – an anchor at center – has departed for the NFL, but Paul Maile Jr is a decent replacement.
Florida’s defense will struggle to handle Utah’s offense, especially considering the roster turnover. Without LB Ty’Ron Hopper, DE Zachary Carter (7.5 sacks), and leading tackler Mohamoud Diabate (who transferred to Utah), Florida doesn’t possess the same pass rush and run defense as last season. Utah’s rushing attack will subsequently gash the Gators and force them to bring extra defenders up front. Florida’s secondary also lost elite CB Kaiir Elam to the draft, so they don’t have the luxury of eliminating a receiver using only one defender.
I expect Utah’s offense to start the game running all over Florida and using screens to draw the defense close to the line. Once the Gators adjust with extra defenders, look for Rising to attack the open space. If Utah can set up their play action, Rising will complete plenty of deep passes.
Florida’s offense won’t be inept, but I don’t believe they can score at the same rate as Utah. The Gators lost key offensive contributors in RB Dameon Pierce, RB Malik Davis, WR Jacob Copeland, and TE Kemore Gamble. Transfer RB Montrell Johnson will be a capable SEC back, but he lacks the upside of Pierce.
The biggest loss for Utah was LB Devin Lloyd, who tallied 111 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, and 4 interceptions. Diabate can replenish a portion of Lloyd’s run defense, but his pass rush production will be missed. However, Van Fillinger and Junior Tafuna are going to make a leap this season in pressuring the quarterback, so look for the Utes to generate consistent pressure.
Utah also retained elite defensive back Clark Phillips III, which will ease the burden on the defensive line. Phillips dominated in coverage, as he tied for 8th in the country with 13 passes defended. He will limit Florida’s passing game and force QB Anthony Richardson – an inconsistent passer – to throw into tiny windows. Overall, Utah’s defense will make enough plays to maintain at least a touchdown lead.
Utah vs. Florida Key Matchups
Check out the key matchups and mismatches for Utah vs Florida below.
Florida’s Front Seven vs Utah’s Run Game
The biggest matchup is between Florida’s front seven and Utah’s running game. If Thomas shakes tackles and transforms his three yard runs into six yards, then Florida’s defense is doomed. Utah will control the time of possession battle while tiring out the Gators by the end of the 3rd quarter. Containing Rising’s scrambling is also key, as he routinely extends drives with his legs. Utah’s running game sets up their offense, so Florida has to cut the head off of the snake by stonewalling Utah at the line of scrimmage.
The Productivity of FL WR Justin Shorter
At an individual level, Florida WR Justin Shorter must create separation. It remains to be seen whether Trent Whittemore and Xzavier Henderson can produce, so Shorter is the sole reliable receiver currently. His route efficiency with Clark Phillips III lurking may decide whether Florida can march down the field or gain 20 yards before punting.
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