GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Ricky Pearsall made a one-handed catch that will be hard to top this season, Trey Smack kicked five field goals and No. 25 Florida overcame a lackluster performance to beat Charlotte 22-7 on Saturday night.
The Gators (3-1) won their third consecutive game since losing at then-No. 14 Utah, but they looked far from ready to go on the road and end a two-game skid to Kentucky next week.
Graham Mertz completed 20 of 23 passes for 259 yards, with a touchdown and a fumble. Pearsall finished with six receptions for 104 yards, none better than his leaping snag down the seam that led to a field goal and a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.
But the Gators delivered few highlights the rest of the night. 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.
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.
Florida finished with 395 yards, but its defense was stout all game and allowed just 10 first downs and 210 yards.
Jalon Jones, who originally signed with Florida in 2019, led Charlotte with 65 yards rushing and a touchdown. He completed 11 of 16 passes for 111 yards.
Jones was accused of sexual battery twice in the same night after a few months on campus. No charges were filed. He transferred to Jackson State, where he played one season before moving on to Mississippi Delta Community College and then Bethune-Cookman.
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, had made all six of his field-goal attempts, including a 54-yarder against Charlotte 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, getting flagged for holding and an illegal block. Those were Florida’s fourth and fifth penalties on special teams in four games and the latest special teams woes.
Florida has dealt with two shanked punts, a missed field goal and a missed extra point that prompted a kicker change, a high snap on another extra point, eight men on the field while trying to block a field goal against Utah and two players wearing No. 3 during a punt return against the Utes.
The Gators also had just 10 men on the field twice, once for a field-goal attempt and once for 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.
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