Photo credit: University of Florida athletic association
It was a tale of two offenses in Oxford, Miss. on Saturday. Which provides a lot of fun in the film room, but also an equal amount of frustration, defensively.
There is hope, however. Florida did surrender 613 total yards to Ole Miss, but there were some promising aspects of the Gators defense that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will look to build off of entering week two against South Carolina.
The bread and butter of this team is its offense, though. Head coach Dan Mullen had his unit firing at will on the Rebels, posting 642 yards of its own as quarterback Kyle Trask tied the SEC record for touchdown passes in a conference-opener, with six.
You've heard these storylines already though, plenty in the day and a half that has passed since the final whistle blew. That's why this story is going to go a little, no, a lot more in depth. After a thorough rewatch, I've compiled observations of players across the entire roster, from the entire game, and what they mean moving forward for Florida.
First, some editor's notes: I can't post any game clips from scratch on this website due to potential copyright violations. The only film provided is what Florida's official account and other licensed outlets have published on social media, as it relates to certain observations.
All-22 film angles are also not provided by the SEC or NCAA, making routes hard to confirm should the wide receiver leave the camera's shot, as well as coverages, some defensive line techniques, and so on. These observations were put together after hours of rewatching plays, slowed down and on loop in order to best analyze the available tape. It isn't perfect, and I couldn't tell you full play concepts without an All-22 angle, but it's the best we've got.
With that being said, below you can find my in-depth film observations from Florida's 51-35 victory over Ole Miss. We'll go position by position.
It truly was a near-perfect performance for Kyle Trask in his first season-opening start in recent memory.
Trask completed 30-of-42 passing attempts (71.4%) for a career-high 416 yards and six touchdowns, spreading the ball around to 11 different pass catchers. On tape, his chemistry with tight end Kyle Pitts was obvious, notably extending plays and throwing passes to his back-shoulder that we didn't see much in 2019.
Slants and crossers, deep outs, tight end post routes remained Trask's strongest throws like we saw last season. His throwing power appears to have increased a bit this offseason on throws to the middle of the field, especially in the 15-30 yard range, although his deep velocity remains a bit underwhelming. He remains a mild threat as a rusher, however, Trask seemed more comfortable and slightly quicker when rolling out.
Pass protection was strong throughout the day (more to come on that), but when things broke down, Trask remained poised and relatively mistake-free. He delivered multiple accurate lasers while taking hits from different angles, including on what appeared to be a comeback route from Jacob Copeland and a crosser from Kadarius Toney.
Trask missed an underneath defender when targeting Justin Shorter, the lone receiver play-side on an RPO with Nay'Quan Wright in the backfield. The defender hopped up and dropped what should have been an interception as Trask threw to Shorter on a slant, with another two defenders in the area. Left guard Richard Gouraige had pulled across the formation timely and was in position to lead block if Trask had given the ball to Wright, which would have been the smarter decision at the end of the day.
Trask also had an errant incompletion thrown while taking a hit that hung in the air a while, but other than those two plays, it was a great day through the air for the redshirt senior.
Emory Jones saw eight snaps against the Rebels compared to Trask's 70, his first snap ending with an interception - a bad one. Jones seemed to decide to throw on a whim after rolling right, and he let the ball go while being hit by a rusher. The pass remained in the air for a while and picked off by A.J. Finley easily.
However, Mullen sent Jones right back out on the next drive for a couple of plays, and for five plays on a drive kept to himself in the third quarter that ended in a field goal. The next passing play design allowed Jones to connect with a wide-open Trevon Grimes for 30 yards, but his final throw was off targeting Toney, while under pressure.
Jones added 37 rushing yards on four attempts with a long of 22.
The Gators' running back tandem of Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis certainly looks like a strong pair, but we'll need to see more volume against tougher competition before drawing any conclusions.
However, for a team that struggled running the ball a year ago, things are trending upward. The duo averaged 6.4 yards per rush on 16 carries, nine for Pierve and seven for Davis, certainly serving as a complement to the passing game but an efficient one at that.
Pierce isn't a back you'd bet on suffering from negative runs much, if at all, given his brusing rushing style and aggressive, downhill demeanor. Only one of his carries went backwards, for a loss of one, otherwise Pierce consistently churned out solid gains including a four-carry stretch of plays for 26 yards (gains of eight, six, eight, and four) near the end of the third quarter.
Davis does look like he has returned to an old form, a year removed from a recovery season after two back-to-back season-ending injuries. Recording double-digit touches, Davis earned 82 scrimmage yards on Saturday, 8.2 yards per touch. He looked explosive and quick, making several impressive jump cuts and fighting for extra yards, however his long-speed does seem to have taken a hit over time from his injuries.
Even redshirt freshman Nay'Quan Wright had the ball come his way, rushing four times for a disappointing loss of one yard, however he made exciting things happen on a 25-yard reception, making numerous defenders miss as he worked downfield.
Wright probably won't offer much more than a third-down role this season, as Pierce and Davis appear to have the bulk of the carries and snaps going their way. The question is: How efficient can this group be should Florida go run-heavy in a gameplan? Can it be depended on?
Remember the concerns about Florida's passing game after losing four senior wide receivers to the NFL? It was a legitimate worry entering the season, but doesn't feel like one any longer.
11 different receivers caught a pass on Saturday: Six wide receivers, three running backs, and two tight ends. Specifically, three wide receivers caught their first pass as Gators: Penn State transfer Justin Shorter, redshirt freshman Trent Whittemore, and true freshman Xzavier Henderson. Whittemore made the most of his five targets, catching three for 26 yards and fighting for extra yards every time he hauled in a pass. He also made a nice concentration catch at the endzone boundary that was ruled out of bounds, but his effort was refreshing.
Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney led the receivers, both scoring a touchdown and making things happen with the ball in their hands. Toney has markedly improved as a true receiver, running better routes to the middle of the field and being decisive when moving downfield, rather than going east to west as he's well known for.
Trask tried Grimes, 6-foot-5, 214 lbs., on numerous contested catches and back-shoulder throws as well, notably connecting on a similar throw to Kyle Pitts' adjustment touchdown in the front left corner of the endzone, this time on the right.
Jacob Copeland also had a solid day, consistently getting open on out-breaking routes and catching three of four targets for 39 yards. Copeland dropped one well-placed pass down the middle of the field, which Trask squeezed into a spot with numerous defenders enclosing. It was a nice ball that Copeland nearly caught, but a defender knocked it out.
The unit as a whole blocked well, but Copeland had one block in particular that stood out, sealing off the edge against cornerback Keidron Smith, a big defensive back at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, which was a big factor in Toney's 50-yard rush in the first half.
Pitts is the No. 1 receiver in this offense, there is no doubt. But Florida need not be concerned if teams double or even triple team the 6-foot-6 tight end, because Trask and Jones have plenty of other options to throw to.
It's the Kyle Pitts show in Florida's offense and rightfully so. Catching nearly everything that came his way, whether it be a contested ball in double coverage in the endzone, a slightly underthrown seam route, an adjusted out-route, the short post he's found plenty of success with, back-shoulder throws, and so on, Pitts simply couldn't be stopped.
On contested catches, Pitts timed jumps well, boxed out defenders, and utilized his strength in the air to snatch the ball away. He also forced numerous missed tackles with impressive cuts for his frame, and won a footrace to the endzone on the deep seam pass that was slightly underthrown.
Pitts also blocked on 23 of his 55 snaps. He's still not perfect there as his anchor and base isn't the strongest, which allows bigger defenders to knock him off balance. However, there is little doubt that Pitts is willing and aggressive as a blocker, as he attempted blocks all day and often found himself in good position to seal off edge rushers in the run game.
We didn't see much of the tight end room behind Pitts in terms of production, but Kemore Gamble found the field for 15 snaps, with Keon Zipperer adding another 10. Both did an ample amount of blocking, however, Zipperer did bring in one catch for 11 yards.
My biggest takeaway from Florida'a victory was how sound the offensive line looked all day. This isn't an angry group yet. There isn't a Jawaan Taylor, at least yet, that chews up edge defenders consistently and spits them back into the grass in the run game, but undoubtedly, progress has been made.
Left tackle Stone Forsythe, center Brett Heggie, and right guard Stewart Reese were Florida's top performers on the offensive line. Forsythe looked stronger in the runnning game, notably sealing off the edge on runs to the interior and getting defenders out of rushing lanes with his upper body strength on play-side blocks. He had at least one solo pancake on a run block.
Florida now lists Forsythe at 6-foot-9, 312 lbs., and at a size like that he'll never be the most agile tackle. That shows up on occasion in pass protection against nimble, quick rushers, but it didn't bother Forsythe much on Saturday. He slid well adjusting to rush angles and simply didn't let much by him.
Heggie started at center after playing guard as of late for the Gators and did well. There weren't any issues with snap accuracy, and I only noticed one quarterback pressure given up. His highlight came on the Gators' first play, a nine-yard rush from Pierce, where Heggie man-handled his block 10 or so yards downfield.
Reese provided a consistent presence at right guard in both the run and pass game. The 6-foot-6, 350-pound interior lineman pulled across the formation six times according to my count, with three successful reps in pass protection and and three solid run-blocking pulls. I also saw one interior play-side combo block, moving to the second level and washing out a linebacker on a run play. Reese didn't make any powerful downhill blocks that will "wow" you, but he was usually in the right place in the run game and helped the unit in that department, a welcome upgrade.
Richard Gouraige was solid, however, he doesn't appear to play with a ton of power on the interior. He's an athletic lineman who mirrors well, and paired with Jean Delance's struggles in protection on Saturday, I could see Gouraige flexing to tackle when sophomore Ethan White returns from a knee injury. Delance drove a block out of the rush lane into the endzone on a QB keeper from Trask that fell a yard short of a touchdown in the first quarter, his best rep of the day, but otherwise it was a lackluster performance for the redshirt senior.
Defensive line/Buck rush end
The defensive line flashed in moments but struggled with consistently pressuring Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral as a unit, and lost contain on the edges that provided opportunities for quarterback rushing yards. As a whole, though, the Gators gave up only 3.8 yards per carry on 45 attempts, and did a great job of containing electric rushing QB John Rhys Plumlee, who gained four yards on as many rushes.
Brenton Cox Jr., Zachary Carter, and Khris Bogle created disruption throughout the game, Carter easily leading the unit in pressures although he didn't finish as many plays that he could have. Still, his pressure was enough to throw Corral off of his progression as the game went on, playing inside and out and displaying improved strength as he's now up to 290-pounds. Cox made several highlight-worthy plays, including climbing the ladder to bat a pass that freshman defensive tackle Gervon Dexter intercepted, and a run stuff up the middle in the redzone. He finished with eight tackles, 2.5 of those for loss, and two sacks.
Bogle played well on both edges, and has clearly gotten much stronger since his freshman year (he's now at 240-pounds, up from 216 as a freshman). He notably defeated a stacked double-team block, against a tight end and then the left tackle, which flushed Corral out to the left. Middle linebacker Ventrell Miller took advantage of Bogle's hard work in the trenches and recorded an 11-yard sack on the play. Bogle should only get better in a full-time role and will push redshirt senior Jeremiah Moon for snaps at Buck this year, when Moon returns to the field. Andrew Chatfield could also find a consistent role as a complemetary edge rusher as he's bulked up. He tallied two tackles, includong one for loss, and dialed up numerous pressures.
T.J. Slaton was Florida's most inconsistent starter on the defensive line. He created pressure as a pass rusher at times, and at others, he'd get washed out of the run game as gaps were created along the interior. He's a big-bodied defender that can take on double-teams to open up other rushers, but in order to gain that type of attention, he'll have to get stronger in run defense. Nose tackle Marlon Dunlap Jr. could also stand to improve against the run, getting redirected by blockers several times.
Dexter only saw 12 snaps, recording an interception and a tackle for loss in the first quarter. His role will only grow as it was his first career game, but it was a bit puzzling that he didn't play much beyond his early action. He was late out of his stance and missed a tackle accordingly on the same drive as his TFL, however, Dunlap advised Dexter to shift gaps pre-snap which led to the late start on the play. The shift weakened Florida's play-side defense and might have been the wrong advice.
After rewatching Ventrell Miller's debut at middle linebacker, I was even more impressed than I was watching live. I counted only two missed tackles, compared to his 15 total tackles and 13 solo, and he only gave up one play in coverage - albeit a 33-yard gain to tight end Kenny Yeboah.
Otherwise, he was about perfect in his role. Miller keyed his responsibilities in the run game quickly and efficienctly, taking proper angles to the ball and getting downhill and sideline-to-sideline quicker than he ever has before. He tackled violently and in correct form for the majority of the game, handing out several big hits.
When it was all said and done, there didn't appear to be any drop off at middle linebacker following three-year starter David Reese II's graduation. In fact, if Miller keeps up performances like this, an argument could be made that the Gators upgraded at MIKE.
Weak-side linebacker Amari Burney didn't live up to the bar Miller set at linebacker, though. Again, without All-22 it's hard to tell as things get deeper, but there were moments that Burney appeared lost or a bit behind in coverage further down the field. He was also susceptible to biting on play action which led to chunk plays, a problem that numerous defenders had throughout the day, including linebacker Lacedrick Brunson who gave up a touchdown on a sit route thrown to Dontario Drummond after biting on the run fake.
It was slot receiver Elijah Moore and tight end Kenny Yeboah that led Ole Miss in receiving, Moore posting a ridiculous 227 receiving yards on 10 catches. At outside cornerback, Kaiir Elam had a decent day and showed willingness as a run defender, but biting on a deep double-move paired with blown 2-deep coverage from safety Donovan Stiner led to a huge touchdown from Dontario Drummond, which will be what everyone remembers from Elam's performance.
Elam also made a superb pass breakup on a slant route, in stride every step of the way moving inside and making a huge reaching play on the ball across the receiver's body without any illegal contact - but a targeting call on safety Shawn Davis made it all for not.
Chester Kimbrough and Jaydon Hill played nearly an equal amount of snaps on the outside, usually opposite of Elam with Marco Wilson playing Star nickel cornerback and shadowing Moore in the underneath passing and run game. Neither appeared to be tested in coverage, although Kimbrough will need to improve angling and tackling in the run game moving forward.
Wilson was hit-or-miss, primarily playing Star, and if he was responsibile with manning-up on Moore all game long, then it should be considered a downright bad performance. However, and again All-22 would help here: It seemed as if Wilson was often tasked with covering the flats and short zones, which he did well, leaving Moore and other receivers to the remainder of the secondary if they went deep. There were times Wilson appeared frustrated with communication in the secondary on big plays. We'll ask defensive coordinator Todd Grantham more about those matchups when he speaks with the media this week.
C.J. McWilliams played five snaps after being named the starting Star earlier in the week, notably giving up a 51-yard reception to Moore after losing a step or two on a deep post route.
Losing Shawn Davis to an ejection for targeting on the first drive severly hurt Florida's defense, leaving a true freshman in his place in Rashad Torrence II. Torrence didn't have a bad game, recording eight total tackles and five of his own. He also didn't really get picked on in coverage, however, Davis' playmaking ability and range could have helped Florida tremendously as the game went on.
Donovan Stiner was noticeably within the zone or in man coverage on several deep completions, to receivers Elijah Moore and Dontario Drummond, and tight end Kenny Yeboah, at times even close to the receiver's hip, but his eyes were focused on other things on which allowed the receivers to make big plays and catch the ball. Stiner simply looked lost in coverage from start to finish, however he did make some nice downhill tackles, though.
Trey Dean III also made three nice plays coming downhill from safety in the first half, quick to diagnose his angle and pursue ball carriers quickly. He tackled aggressively, which led to one missed tackle but in general gave the defense some energy.
We won't do much hard-core film analysis on Florida's special teams this year, but Evan McPherson did connect on a career-long 55-yard field goal in the third quarter, one of three successful attempts on the day. Redshirt senior Jacob Finn's lone punt in his starting debut hung in the air a while and went for 47 yards, forcing Elijah Moore to quickly step backwards before a fair catch at the nine-yard line.