Redshirt freshman receiver Jacob Copeland had three catches for 23 yards against UT-Martin, including his first collegiate touchdown. 

Early season contests against FCS teams can be tough to evaluate. Game plans are dumbed down, young players are constantly rotating in and, above all, the weak competition presents little opportunity for an honest appraisal of the team.

This was the case in Florida’s 45-0 takedown of Tennessee-Martin on Saturday night. On paper, it was a textbook win. But the final score and statistics didn’t tell the full story of the game.

The Gators started off slow once again. Despite being favored by 45 at kickoff, they only led 17-0 at halftime.

But the team got it together in the second half, scoring 28 points en route to a shutout. There were areas to improve on, certainly. At the same time, Florida showed why fans should still be cautiously optimistic.

Franks spread the ball around

Against Miami, UF’s top receivers — Van Jefferson, Trevon Grimes and Tyrie Cleveland — combined for only three catches. 

But facing the Skyhawks, the trio caught 12 balls.

“Everyone had catches,” Grimes said. “We all went out there and did our thing. We are just going to build on that.”

Quarterback Feleipe Franks was efficient. He completed his first 15 passes and only two of his attempts hit the turf all night.

He, as well as UF’s other quarterbacks Kyle Trask and Emory Jones, connected with 11 different players.

“I try to take what the defense gives me,” Franks said.

Unfortunately for Florida, playmaking receiver Kadarius Toney exited the game in the first quarter with an injury, the severity of which is currently unknown.

In his place, the Gators turned to redshirt freshman Jacob Copeland, who had three catches for 23 yards and a touchdown — the first of his young UF career.

After the game, coach Dan Mullen said Copeland could see an increased role if Toney is unavailable in the near future.

The defense was a brick wall

The Skyhawks’ offense flatlined against the Gators. Florida held UT Martin to 194 yards of offense — the least a Mullen-coached UF team has ever allowed. It was the first time the Gators kept an opponent under 200 yards in his tenure.

Safety Shawn Davis saw a bump in reps with Brad Stewart’s suspension — the justification for which has not been specified other than not meeting team expectations — for the second-straight game

Davis led the team with six tackles and notched a tackle for loss.

The Gators worked in true freshmen on defense, including defensive end Khris Bogle, who was second in tackles (5) and sacked Skyhawks quarterback John Bachus III once.

Kaiir Elam, Jaydon Hill and Chester Kimbrough all got their feet wet playing the corner position after CJ Henderson left with what appeared to be an ankle injury. Elam snagged the first interception of his career in the end zone, while Kimbrough and Hill combined for eight tackles.

“I wanted guys rolling in right from the beginning throughout the team,” Mullen said. “It wasn’t just like the younger guys are getting these reps with the game in hand. They’re getting reps with real stuff going on.”

The running game showed signs of life

With less than 30 seconds left in the second quarter against Miami, running back Lamical Perine broke a 15-yard run for a first down.

Not only was it his biggest gain on the ground of the night, but it was also UF’s longest run. The team finished with only 50 yards rushing on 28 carries.

The Skyhawks struggled much more to contain it.

The Gators totaled 231 rushing yards and three scores on the ground. Perine was better, earning 51 yards on 10 carries, while Iverson Clement broke his only carry for a 41-yard gain.

Though consistency in the run game is still a problem, Florida was able to get big plays on the ground against UTM. If it hopes to be a force in the SEC, a reliable run game is a must.

“We want to establish the run with all these guys dropping so deep so we can take some shots down the field,” Mullen said. “If you look statistically, we look pretty solid in that force… I was really pleased with our guys.”

Follow Tyler Nettuno on Twitter @TylerNettuno. Contact him at [email protected].

Tyler Nettuno is a sports writer for the Alligator and covers the University of Florida men's basketball team. He has previously covered UF golf and lacrosse. He has worked at the paper since Fall 2017.