Gators observations from the Las Vegas Bowl, where Florida was decimated and dominated


The Gators are leaving Las Vegas with a mandate to rebuild and not much else. Decimated and dominated, they absorbed a 30-3 loss to No. 14 Oregon State on Saturday, the best aspect of which was that it ended with four days remaining before the early signing period. Florida coaches are primed to land a top-10 recruiting class — while seeking help from many corners of the transfer portal — as they turn over a roster that produced the program’s first consecutive losing seasons since 1978-79.

More observations from the Las Vegas Bowl drubbing at Allegiant Stadium:

1. The streak lives

Florida was flirting with a shutout, only 37 seconds away from ending its NCAA record of scoring in 435 games, which dates back to 1988. Adam Mihalek’s 40-yard field goal on the Gators’ final series became the ultimate consolation prize, akin to winning $20 on the airport slots after a week of going bankrupt on blackjack. Congratulations on a new mark of 436 games.

Napier isn’t wired to chase stats or preserve streaks, and he likely would have attempted a pass into the end zone under semi-manageable circumstances. Trying a fourth-and-23 play would’ve invited one more opportunity for Oregon State’s blitzers to blast quarterback Jack Miller, who stood in for the opted-out Anthony Richardson.

2. Miller remains difficult to assess

The staff was encouraged by what Miller showed behind the scenes during spring practice and preseason camp. The public, however, has only witnessed him failing to lead a touchdown drive in the Orange and Blue spring game and again at the bowl. Though Miller was encumbered by personnel issues on both occasions, he clearly hasn’t made much of a case to be the 2023 starter.

He finished 13 of 22 for 180 yards against Oregon State, narrowly avoiding a first-pass interception that bounced off the hands of cornerback Ryan Cooper. Showing the rust you’d expect following thumb surgery and a two-month recovery process, Miller overthrew Caleb Douglas on a deep cross and threw behind Ricky Pearsall on a slant the receiver pulled in nonetheless.

“I think Jack showed some toughness and grit today,” Napier said. “He hadn’t been taking any No. 2 reps for a long time.”

As we touched upon last week, the caliber quarterback Florida pursues in the portal will convey how much the staff trusts Miller. At this juncture, the Gators are in contact with some top-line starters, as they should be.

3. Dry possessions on the fringe

Florida reached the Oregon State 31 in the first quarter, only to commit two false-start penalties before Mihalek missed wide left from 52 yards.

The Gators moved to the OSU 36 on their next series, where Napier went for it on fourth-and-8. Blitzing defensive back Jaydon Grant spoiled the play by flushing Miller deep out of the pocket. Though Ja’Quavion Fraziars came open for a moment on the underneath crossing route, Miller encountered too much pressure to see him until it was too late.

While Florida entered the game batting .500 on fourth downs, converting 15 of 30, it went 0-for-2 in the bowl.

The redshirt freshman is a project who may someday evolve into a quality lineman. Saturday’s performance revealed he isn’t ready yet.

He entered the bowl having played 37 offensive snaps, all during the blowout wins over Eastern Washington and South Carolina. With O’Cyrus Torrence opting out and backup Richie Leonard injured, Waites became the contingency plan at right guard.

In the first quarter, he committed a false start on third-and-5. In the final eight minutes, he whiffed on a forth-and-2 block at the Beavers’ 20, allowing James Rawls to drop Montrell Johnson for a 3-yard loss.

Florida’s running game produced a season-worst 39 yards on 33 carries, a precipitous drop-off from its average of 5.84 yards per carry that came in ranked No. 2 nationally.

Trevor Etienne and the Gators had trouble running behind a makeshift offensive line against Oregon State. (Lucas Peltier / USA Today)

5. Pearsall is on the clock

A 33-catch season didn’t match his expectations — considering he caught 48 last year at Arizona State — but Pearsall led Gators receivers with 661 yards and five touchdowns. Having played more than 1,000 snaps in the past two years, he has plenty of film for NFL scouts to evaluate. Now he must weigh the opportunities of returning to Florida against a potential mid- to late-round draft grade.

“There’s a lot of aspects that go into it, but I’m still thinking about it and being patient with it,” Pearsall said after catching four passes for 65 yards Saturday. “I love being here and that’s a really important aspect for me and my decision. I love Coach and all my teammates.”

6. False-start penalties flummox Napier

The Gators committed six false-start penalties, including two by center Kingsley Eguakun. With attendance announced at less than 30,000, it wasn’t a product of crowd noise.

“Procedure penalties are things that I think frustrate coaches, and certainly I don’t know if we have had that many the entire season, much less one game,” Napier said. “That’s something we need to take a closer look at and see what we can do to help the players.”

7. Special teams breakdowns

Jeremy Crawshaw netted 59 yards on a punt that was downed at the 2. Crawshaw also rugby-kicked a ball off his own blocking back Dante Zanders, resulting in the Beavers taking possession at the Gators’ 7-yard line.

Florida blocked a field goal at the end of the half to keep the deficit at 10-0. But Florida was caught flat-footed in the third quarter when the Beavers faked a punt on fourth-and-2 near midfield. Jack Colletto ran for 11 yards and Oregon State ultimately scored to go up 17-0.

“We were in a little bit more conservative call, but we should’ve left ‘punt safe’ out there,” Napier said. “That’s my fault.”

The postseason roster attrition creates trickle-down problems for special teams, but Florida wasn’t up to par in several facets all season.

8. Missing stars on both sides

Though Florida’s roster was thinned out by NFL Draft opt-outs and a batch of players hitting the transfer portal, Oregon State was lacking a few key players also.

Top receiver Tre’Shaun Harrison, who made 52 catches for 604 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season, was held out of the game with an injury.

Pac-12 offensive freshman of the year Damien Martinez, coming off a string of six 100-yard rushing performances, left with a first-quarter shoulder injury after only three carries. Deshaun Fenwick responded with 107 yards on 21 carries.

9. Napier is in trust-me mode about Year 1 progress

Florida was never going to compete for an SEC championship. That doesn’t make a 6-7 finish marked by a three-game losing skid any more acceptable.

For now, we’re supposed to trust that Napier made strides in repairing the culture, considering headway wasn’t evident on the field.

“You’re always working on culture, but I think we made a ton of progress,” he said. “What I observed in that locker room compared to what we observed when we first got here is a completely different ball club.”

(Top photo of Jack Miller being sacked by Oregon State’s Andrew Chatfield Jr.: Jeff Speer / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)


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