The defense played inspired holding the North Texas State Mean Green to a school record 53 yards of total offense en route to a 32-0 victory, the Gators first shutout since a 65-0 win over Eastern Michigan in 2014.
But it was the loss of Del Rio to a knee injury on a low hit by Mean Green defensive end Josh Wheeler that kept Gator Nation abuzz well into the night.
There was no immediate word on the extent of the injury but in postgame comments by head coach Jim McElwain he mentioned that De Rio will likely miss some time heading into the Tennssee game next weekend.
“He’s getting his leg looked at right now, it doesn’t look great, so you know what? We’ll do whatever, somebody else will play, we’ll get some guys ready, move forward, and get ready to play next week.”
Prior to the injury Del Rio had played well enough to lead the Gators to a 19-0 lead but he was still somewhat inconsistent much like he was in the opener against UMass.
He was 14-25 for 186 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. He made a few poor decisions throwing into coverage and missed on some open routes but still played solid enough before the injury.
So now the Gators will head into the SEC East showdown in Knoxville next Saturday without Del Rio and may have to rely on grad transfer Austin Appleby for a few weeks.
It was reported Sunday afternoon that Del Rio suffered a knee sprain and should only be out 2-3 weeks.
On to the the grades.
In 39 years of following Gator football I’ve seen a lot of dominant defensive efforts. None quite compare to Saturday night.
The Gators had 7 sacks, one interception, and held the UNT offense to the aforementioned school record 53 yards of total offense. UNT was only 2-13 on third down and 0-2 on fourth down.
Most of their yardage came on three plays for a total of 55 yards. They had -2 on all other offensive plays. In fact, UNT gained almost twice as much yardage (97) on Gator penalties as they did on their own.
But perhaps the most impressive play was 2nd down from the UNT 7 yard line on the Mean Green’s first series when DT Caleb Brantley and DT Joey Ivie bullrushed a dropping Mason Fine and sacked him for a safety almost immediately. Fine never even had time to get his feet set before Brantley covered him and Ivie helped take him down.
Three and out in the first series?
Meh, lots of defenses do that.
This Gator defense forced them into a two and out for two Gator points virtually before the tv announcers could even give out the UNT starting offensive lineup.
The Gator front seven, led by LB’s Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone, continue to make the case for being the best not only in the SEC but also in the nation.
They are deep and talented with a good mix of experienced veterans and young up and coming pass rushers in Jabari Zuniga, Jachai Polite, and Keivonnis Davis. All three had a sack in the first four UNT possessions.
The front seven completely shut down the UNT running game holding them to -14 yards rushing on the night.
The Gators defensive backs continued their stellar play once again living up to the DBU moniker with corners Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson blanketing UNT receivers limiting them to a paltry 66 yards passing.
The Gators safeties also had a huge game. Marcell Harris grabbed the first interception of his career while Duke Dawson and Nick Washington were active repeatedly punishing UNT players with jarring tackles and big hits.
If the defense can continue at its current pace, they could very well end up as the best in Gator history.
Certainly they haven’t played any offensive juggernauts through three games but you’ve got to be impressed with their focus and intensity and how they’ve approached each game not playing down to the name on the front of the jerseys.
The only negative for the Gator defense was penalties. Offsides and some ticky tacky pass interference calls on corners Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson gave UNT some unearned yardage and first downs. The only reason I don’t knock them down for this is the PI’s could have gone either way and they played so well, it didn’t hurt them. If anything it made them even more motivated to shut down the UNT offense.
Struggled with this grade.
Started post game from a C- mostly due to Del Rio’s seeming inconsistency and offensive line struggles in the red zone.
Watching the game on DVR, however, offense looked much better than it seemed in-game.
Del Rio continued to be streaky starting the game 0-4 before going on a 6-7 run for 108 yards.
He still seems a little slow in his progressions at times, locking on to the primary route for too long and missing some guys coming open.
It caused him once again to make some late throws and have to throw under duress as the pass rush got to him at times.
He missed on some open deep balls early before hitting true freshman Josh Hammond in-stride on the Gators third possession.
It wasn’t all on Del Rio, however, as the Gators offensive line once again struggled to get a push in short yardage situations and continued to shoot themselves in the foot with penalties, particularly in the red zone.
A missed block on fourth and short led to a turnover on downs for the Gators at the 5 yard line on that third drive.
Penalties once again continued to haunt the Gators as they had a season high 9 for 97 yards.
Some of those were huge calls against the defense but this far they’ve been able to overcome them. The offense, though, has been getting them at inopportune times and they are killers for this unit.
The running game continues to look like a team strength. They rushed for 255 yards on 43 carries, a whopping 5.9 yards per rush.
Led by Mark Thompson with 11 carries for 85 yards the Gators continued their running back by committee approach rotating four backs throughout the game.
They all ran hard and all four scored a touchdown on the night as well.
At this point, it’s obvious that the Gators certainly have the deepest running back corps in the conference if not the most talented overall as well.
All four backs, while having different styles, can run inside or outside and can make plays on the passing game as well.
This is important moving forward with Del Rio out because it not only provides balance but also sets up the play action and what they try to do in the downfield passing game.
Speaking of the passing game, it continues to be a work in progress but still shows positive signs. They continue to play the high low game mixing in the short passing and outside screen game while continuing to attack downfield with play action.
While Del Rio missed some throws and missed seeing some open receivers it’s encouraging to continue to see guys running open.
While the Gators qb’s didn’t exactly light up the night finishing 16-29 for 216 yards and no TD’s they did spread the ball around well with nine different players catching passes.
Fan favorite placekicker Eddie Piniero was perfect on the night hitting his only field goal attempt from 22 yards and making all three of his PAT’s while consistently putting the ball to the endzone on kickoffs.
Punter Johnny Townsend was his usual consistent self punting four times for a whopping 55.3 average with a long of 59 and keeping UNT back in their own territory.
Other than that not much to talk about as the shutout limited the Gators to only one kick return and UNT’s rugby style punter basically prevented the Gators from doing much on punt returns.
Overall it was a solid effort for the Gators but once again they need to continue emphasizing limiting self-inflicted wounds with penalties.