The 2021 Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl features the 8-4 Central Florida Knights against the 6-6 Florida Gators. Here is the 2021 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Preview.
Central Florida Knights (8-4)
UCF had a respectable 8-4 season under first year head coach Gus Malzahn. He has the Knights returning to the Gasparilla Bowl where UCF most recently appeared in 2019 in a blowout of the Marshall Thundering Herd.
The Knights ranked in the upper echelon of the AAC on both sides of the ball ranking 4th in scoring at 32.2 ppg and 3rd in scoring defense with 25.2 points allowed. Only Houston and Cincinnati ranked ahead of the UCF in both categories.
What the Knights lacked in the air game they made up for on the ground, averaging the second most rushing yards in the conference behind only run-heavy Navy. The running took a hit when Northwestern transfer Isaiah Bowser went down with injury in early November. Between Bowser and sophomore runningback Johnny Richardson the Knights have a dangerous backfield. If Bowser is healthy, the Gators will have their hands full.
Tatum Bethune seems to be everywhere defensively, leading the team with 101 tackles on the season. The junior linebacker racked up the tackles despite missing the Navy game with a concussion. Big Kat Bryant is a monster up front, leading the team with 13 TFL’s and 6 sacks.
Florida Gators (6-6)
Just one year removed from making the SEC Championship and Dan Mullen is out as Florida head coach. The Gators got off to a good start losing by just two to Alabama and starting the season 3-1. Unfortunately some bad losses down the stretch to South Carolina and Missouri cost Mullen in the end.
Offensively the Gators were respectable. The questions at quarterback went somewhat unanswered as Emory Jones couldn’t shake the turnover bug this year. He does however make up for it somewhat with his legs, causing some issues for teams defensively.
Defensively the Florida was a nightmare. The Gators ranked 11th in the SEC in scoring defense and allowed some lopsided numbers to some less than stellar offenses in LSU and South Carolina, as well as FCS opponent Samford. The eventual result was the firing of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham midseason.
To make matters worse Florida will be without several key weapons for the bowl game. Leading tackler Mohamoud Diabate, sack leader Zachary Carter and leading receiver Jacob Copeland will all be missing. The defensive absences could pose a serious issue especially if Isaiah Bowser is ready to go.
Ultimately this feels like a season Florida is going to want to forget about. UCF enters winning 5 of their last 6 games, including two without their leading rusher. With the opt outs to for Florida and lack of effectiveness defensively at times, specifically against the run, this feels like a game for UCF to take.
UCF Knights: 31, Florida Gators: 21
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