GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Ricky Pearsall considered using two hands. He switched it up at the last second and made a catch so impressive that it will be hard to top this season.
Pearsall made a one-handed grab that has to be among the best in program history, and No. 25 Florida beat Charlotte 22-7 on Saturday night.
“We practice that actually,” Pearsall, who caught six passes for 104 yards said. “I like to say that happens in practice.”
Trey Smack made five field goals to help the Gators (3-1) overcome their red zone woes. Florida went 1 for 9 on third down and settled for three field goals from inside the 10-yard line. The Gators won their third consecutive game since losing at then-No. 14 Utah, but looked far from ready to go on the road and end a two-game skid to Kentucky next week.
“Are we happy with everything that happened out there?” Florida coach Billy Napier said. “No. But we see a lot of bright spots.”
“(Coaches) always say don’t play down to the competition, raise the standard, set the Gator standard,” linebacker Shemar James said. “For any game, we play a faceless opponent, so that’s what we tried to do tonight. Fortunately we came out with the W, but it was kind of a little bit sloppy.”
Florida's defense helped save the day, allowing just 210 yards. Napier suggested the tighter-than-expected outcome could help put his team find an edge before facing the Wildcats.
“There will be some things that come from keeping this too close,” he said.
A week after a 20-point second quarter against Tennessee, the Gators managed 18 yards — including minus-1 rushing — in the second against one of the worst defenses in major college football.
The 49ers (1-3) allowed nearly 1,100 yards in back-to-back lopsided losses to Maryland and Georgia State. Coach Biff Poggi promised better production and had Florida out of sorts for much of the night.
“I thought the defense was incredible," Poggi said. “They played so hard. We held Florida to 136 rush yards on 36 carries. They were 1 for 9 on third-down conversions and 0 for 1 on fourth-down conversions. I doubt they’ll be anywhere near that in the next five years, so I’m really proud about how our defense.”
After scoring on their first four possessions, the Gators went punt, field goal, turnover on downs, punt and field goal. It was far from what anyone expected from a team that was a 27 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Jalon Jones, who originally signed with Florida in 2019 but transferred following sexual assault accusations, led Charlotte with 65 yards rushing and a touchdown. He completed 11 of 16 passes for 111 yards.
The Gators could fall out of the next Associated Press college football poll, which will be released Sunday.
Charlotte: The 49ers are getting $1.55 million to make the trip south. It’s a significant payday that will help fund the entire athletic program. Athletic director Mike Hill, who spent nearly 25 years at Florida, set up the game and treated it a little like a homecoming.
Florida: Does anyone know which Florida team will show up in Lexington next week? It could be the one that mostly dominated Tennessee or the one that looked disorganized at Utah and struggled to put away McNeese and Charlotte.
Special teams continue to be an issue for Florida despite Smack providing a bright spot the last two weeks. Smack, who supplanted errant Adam Mihalek against Tennessee, has made all six of his field-goal attempts, including a 54-yarder on Saturday that tied for the fourth-longest in program history.
But the units have otherwise been less than ideal for the Gators, who have an analyst serving as special teams coordinator. The Gators were penalized on their first two punt returns and appeared to have 10 men on the field for a field goal block and a punt return.
Charlotte: Plays at SMU next Saturday in the American Athletic Conference opener for both teams.
Florida: Plays at Kentucky next Saturday, an 11 a.m. start locally that will be the Gators’ first day game of the season.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll