Fill-in quarterbacks Bryson Barnes and Nate Johnson capitalized on gift-wrapped field position, and No. 14 Utah’s suffocating defense did the rest as the Utes took down Florida 24-11 in a college football game on Thursday night in Salt Lake City.
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Utah played without 25-game starter Cam Rising, who is still recovering from a torn ACL sustained in the Rose Bowl, but could get the All-Pac-12 passer back for a Sept. 9 date at Baylor.
With Rising resting, the Utes flexed early and often, holding Florida to 13 rushing yards on 21 attempts.
Leading 17-3 at halftime, Utah picked off Florida quarterback Graham Mertz — his pass attempt was deflected by wide receiver Ricky Pearsall — early in the third quarter to gain possession 11 yards from another score. Barnes ran in from 5 yards out on third down to stretch the score to 24-3.
Mertz, a three-year starter at Wisconsin who transferred to start for the Gators, didn’t convert a third down to first down until the 11-minute mark in the fourth quarter. However, he went on a tear in the final 10 minutes, including a run of nine consecutive completions. The Gators’ comeback bid ended with jarring sack, Utah’s fifth of the game, and a fourth-down incompletion with 1:39 to go.
Mertz finished 31 of 44 for 333 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception.
Mertz’s scoring pass came in the fourth quarter to cap the Gators’ 98-yard drive. He found Caleb Douglas for a hard-earned, 19-yard grab over cornerback Zemaiah Vaughn with 9:22 to go. The Gators converted the two-point try, Mertz completing a toss to Eugene Wilson, and narrowed the deficit to 24-11.
Florida regained possession just inside of six-minute mark after Cole Becker missed a 55-yard field goal try.
Barnes whipped a 70-yard TD pass on Utah’s first offensive play of the game.
A quick play-action fake pulled the secondary forward. Barnes hit the fifth step in his dropback and immediately unfurled a slingshot throw that hit wide receiver Money Parks, tracking diagonally from right of the formation to the left-side numbers, in stride between Gators defensive backs Jason Marshall Jr. and Miguel Mitchell.
Following a Florida field goal and then a 31-yard missed try by the Gators, it was Johnson’s turn at the controls for the Utes.
Utah retained possession following a penalty on Florida for having two players wearing uniform No. 3 on the field on fouth-and-3.
Four plays later, Johnson grabbed a shotgun snap on second down at the 8-minute mark in the second quarter, faked an inside handoff and darted left. The redshirt freshman ripped through Florida’s front seven with multiple escorts and crossed the goal line with four white shirts closing in pursuit for a 27-yard TD run that bumped Utah’s advantage to 14-3.
Florida hosts McNeese on Sept. 9 as part of a three-game stretch at home.
Utah won its 15th consecutive home game and has won 26 of its last 27 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
–Field Level Media