Gainesville, Fla.– The Swamp will be rockin’ again on Saturday night as the Florida Gators host the East Carolina Pirates in a rematch of last years Birmingham Bowl. After Florida’s big win in it’s home opener against New Mexico State last week, many Gator fans are riding high. But do not get it confused. East Carolina is NOT New Mexico State.
East Carolina has one the best run defenses in the country. Last season the Pirates ranked No. 36 in the nation in run defense. Even though ECU lost nose tackle Terry Williams, they return a bunch of starters in the front seven and should continue their defensive efficiency. The Gators only averaged 3.9 yards per rush against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl, which is not good enough. If Florida wants to win convincingly, they HAVE to run the ball well. Controlling East Carolina stud linebacker Zeek Bigger will be pivotal in controlling the tempo on offense. Bigger had 140 tackles in 2014 and 10 tackles in last weeks win over Towson.
Will Grier will be starting over sophomore Treon Harris, and he needs to get the offense moving immediately to set an early tone. Look for Brandon Powell to get a bunch of targets again this week and tight end DeAndre Goolsby to have another big game. If the Gators offense can run the ball efficiently against the Pirates front seven, this game will not be close.
Last week the Gators defense looked shaky at times. All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves was beat deep and Marcel Harris was torched on a New Mexico State touchdown. Hargreaves did have an interception later in the game. Florida’s defensive line looks scary good and will have Alex McAlister back this week after serving a 1 game suspension. Safety Marcus Maye will also return from suspension and give the Gators their regular lineup tomorrow night. Safety Keanu Neal has been upgraded to “questionable” after suffering a leg injury in fall camp.
ECU lost starting QB Kurt Benkert to an ACL tear in fall camp. JUCO transfer Blake Kemp has taken over the starting role and has looked efficient. He went 29-37 with 230 yards and 2 touchdowns last week against Towson. Florida needs to dirty up the pocket, force bad decisions and prevent him from finding that rhythm. If it allows Kemp to stand in and make low-risk, high-percentage throws, he can move the chains and control the clock. But if Jonathan Bullard, Bryan Cox and the rest of Florida’s front seven dominate East Carolina’s offensive line the way an SEC team should, Kemp becomes a risk factor.
Prediction: The Gators offense looked pretty stellar last week. New Mexico State has a below average defense, so take that with a grain of salt. East Carolina’s defense is much better and will give Florida more of a test heading into SEC play. I look for the Gators to do much of the same this week and the defense will be in better shape with starters returning. This will be a closer game because East Carolina is a better team. But Florida will still control much of the game.
Score: Florida 38 East Carolina 14