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Gators end 4-game skid with 49-7 romp against lower-division McNeese

Montrell Johnson leads way with 119 yards, 2 scores
Florida Gators running back Montrell Johnson Jr. celebrates his 2-yard TD run against McNeese with teammates, Sept. 9, 2023
Posted at 11:39 PM, Sep 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-10 07:05:48-04

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida got its ground game on track against lower-division McNeese, running for 327 yards and six touchdowns in a 49-7 drubbing Saturday night.

Montrell Johnson led the way with 119 yards and two scores for the Gators, who ended a four-game skid and won for the first time since pummeling South Carolina 38-6 on Nov. 11, 2022.

Coming off a humbling loss at then-No. 14 Utah, Florida was looking to establish its run-first identity and gain some much-needed confidence before hosting ninth-ranked Tennessee next week. The Cowboys (0-2) proved to be the perfect opponent: a team from the Football Championship Subdivision that was woefully overmatched in the Swamp.

Florida (1-1) scored rushing touchdowns on its first five possessions, with Johnson (twice), Graham Mertz, Treyaun Webb and Trevor Etienne finding the end zone. Once they had McNeese's defense stacking the line of scrimmage, Mertz connected with Ricky Pearsall for a 50-yard score that made it 40-0 in the third. Pearsall finished with six catches for 123 yards on his 23rd birthday.

Florida Gators running back Montrell Johnson runs vs. McNeese, Sept. 9, 2023
Florida running back Montrell Johnson Jr. runs through an opening past McNeese defensive back Jaylen Jackson during the first half, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla.

Mertz completed 14 of 17 passes for 193 yards, with the throw to Pearsall being his longest and last of the night. Backup Max Brown took over late in the third.

It was a nearly perfect performance for coach Billy Napier's team, but it remains to be seen how sustainable it can be in the Southeastern Conference play.

Etienne ran 11 times for 84 yards. Webb added 71 yards and two TDs on 14 carries. Johnson and Etienne barely touched the ball against the Utes, combining for 31 yards on 10 carries in a game that got out of reach in the second half.

Napier vowed to get the duo more involved against the Cowboys, an easy call considering the talent disparity.

Florida won its 34th consecutive home opener, the longest current streak in college football. Even though 88,163 were on hand at Florida Field, this one was tempered a bit considering the loss at Utah.

McNeese punted on seven of its first nine possessions and failed to cross midfield after its opening drive. The Cowboys ran just 27 plays through three quarters and finished with 112 yards. They scored following a fumble with a couple minutes remaining to avoid a shutout.

D'Angelo Durham led the Cowboys with 45 yards rushing. Nate Glantz threw for 62 yards and was on the wrong end of the hardest hit of the night, a crushing tackle by linebacker Scooby Williams in the first quarter.