No. 25 Florida leans on defense to top Charlotte


Graham Mertz threw for 259 yards, Trey Smack kicked five field goals and the defense of No. 25 Florida smothered visiting Charlotte in a 22-7 win Saturday night in Gainesville.

Coming off an upset of then-No. 11 Tennessee, the Gators (3-1) started fast, scoring on their first four possessions as Mertz completed his first seven passes. But the rest of the night was a struggle for the Florida offense.

Charlotte (1-3) stayed close as the 49ers repeatedly stopped the Gators when backed into their own territory, forcing Florida to settle for field goals.

The Gators’ defense ultimately paved the way, however, limiting the 49ers to 210 yards and 10 first downs.

Mertz completed 20 of 23 passes with a touchdown. Ricky Pearsall had six receptions for 104 yards, including a sensational one-handed grab in the first half that set up one of Smack’s field goals.

Running behind a Florida offensive line that was missing three injured starters, Montell Johnson Jr. grinded for 63 yards on 16 carries and Trevor Etienne added 48 yards on eight rushes.

Florida opened the game with a remarkably efficient, nine-play, 95-yard march in which it didn’t face a third down. Mertz went 3-for-3 in the drive for 51 yards with the last six coming on a touchdown pass to Arlis Boardingham.

The Gators increased their lead to 16-0 as Smack followed with field goals of 27, 23 and 54 yards.

But after that, Florida struggled against a Charlotte defense led by Eyabi Okie-Anoma, who recorded eight tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

After punting on its first four possessions and failing to reach midfield, Charlotte scored late in the first half as quarterback Jalon Jones accounted for 60 of the yards in a 75-yard drive, including the last seven on a third-and-goal touchdown run to make it 16-7.

Jones finished with 11 completions in 16 attempts for 111 yards. He also was the 49ers’ top rusher with 65 yards on 20 carries.

In a static second half, neither team scored a touchdown. Florida extended its lead on Smack field goals of 36 and 23 yards.

–Field Level Media

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