The No. 5 Florida Gators (1-0) handed it to the Ole Miss Rebels (0-1) offensively in their 51-35 season-opening victory. The issue: Ole Miss handed it right back.
For the most part, fans can be happy with how explosive the Gators were offensively on Saturday. Florida set and tied multiple season-opening and single-game offensive records, and quarterback Kyle Trask looks ready to begin a campaign for the Heisman, quite honestly, with tight end Kyle Pitts right behind him.
It wasn't all pretty, however, as Ole Miss posted 613 total yards of its own. Matt Corral, too, had a career day at quarterback for the Rebels, throwing for nearly 400 yards himself against Florida's secondary.
Below, you can find my five takeaways from Florida's victory over Ole Miss, and what they mean moving forward.
Kyle Trask makes an early statement, Florida's passing game remains spread out
In his first season-opening game as a college starting quarterback, Kyle Trask put the nation on notice.
Trask did not miss a beat against the Rebels, completing 30 of 42 passes for 416 yards and six touchdowns. His six scores through the air tie former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow's record for most in an SEC team's conference-opening game, and are the most by any Florida quarterback against an FBS opponent since 2004.
“I just feel like we had a great game plan," Trask said of his performance after the game. "We had answers for every look they were showing us. And we had some great checks that we executed well.”
It was clear that Trask's connection with tight end Kyle Pitts (more on him later) has only gotten stronger from last year, a tandem that would threaten against any defense in the country. However, while Pitts grabs headlines, Trask spread the ball around to 11 different receivers, with Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes hauling in touchdowns as well.
The backup label is well behind Trask now. Instead, if he keeps putting up performances like this, Trask will be fighting for a new description: Heisman Trophy winner.
Kyle Pitts is the most dangerous TE in America
Eight catches on ten targets for 170 yards and four touchdowns. From a tight end.
The tight end position has grown while offenses look to pass more in modern football, and even considering that, those types of statistics for a tight end are insane. Is there really much else left to say?
Kyle Pitts entered the 2020 season with analysts arguing his case as the No. 1 tight end in the nation. It would be hard to find any counter-arguments at this point, as he not only made something happen on nearly every pass thrown his way, but he showed progress as a willing blocker throughout the game.
"I like that. That’s a compliment, I appreciate it," Pitts responded to a reporter who called his blocking style angry. "That was a big focus of mine this offseason, knowing that that’s something people question. So I wanted to make sure first game, you know, being consistent, starting here, being a good run blocker in the run game."
Gators' run game improves, but remains complementary
Florida looked to improve running the ball this season after a down year in 2019. With four returning starters and a graduate transfer on the week one offensive line paired with several experienced running backs, the Gators can say they're running in the right direction.
On the day, the Gators rushed for 196 yards on 29 attempts, averaging 6.8 yards per carry. Now, 50 rushing yards came from receiver Kadarius Toney on one play in the first half, but even after removing that from the equation, Florida averaged 5.2 yards per rush, nearly a yard more than all last season.
Dameon Pierce looked the mold of a two-down back, rushing with a bruising style and making defenders miss physically on his way to 54 yards on nine attempts. Malik Davis secured seven rushes and three receptions for 49 rushing yards and 33 receiving yards, proving his worth as a third-down-style of back who's role should continue to grow.
Even redshirt freshman Nay'Quan Wright flashed on a 25-yard reception. However, he couldn't break even toting the rock, losing a yard on four carries.
Florida ended up rushing the ball 29 times among six rushers, with no one posting double-digit attempts, while passing the ball 45 times. It makes sense: Florida owned the nation's No. 16 passing and No. 107 rushing offense a year ago. But as the season continues on, look for things to become a bit more balanced should the run game continue to improve.
Ventrell Miller loads up on tackles at middle linebacker, and should only get better
For the most part, linebacker Ventrell Miller thrived in place of the graduated David Reese II at middle linebacker. It was evident that his 15-pound weight loss this offseason improved his sideline-to-sideline speed, as Miller made 15 total tackles, including 13 solo, all over the field against the Rebels' offense. He also added a sack and two tackles for loss.
Miller also missed a couple of tackles here and there, but that was common across the defense today, which gave up a total of 613 yards. Corral's connections with slot receiver Elijah Moore and tight end Kenny Yeboah was Florida's kryptonite, as Corral threw for 395 yards and three touchdowns. Yeboah found success against Miller in man coverage at times, including on a 33-yard play down the middle of the field on Ole Miss' scoring drive in the early fourth quarter
The expectations for Miller are extremely high, from a mix of positive reports coming from the coaching staff in camp and the legacy Reese left behind. It's hard to knock Miller's performance outside nitpicking given the Gators' defensive performance as a whole, and he should only continue to get better as he gets more comfortable in the middle.
"Ventrell, that’s what we expect out of him," head coach Dan Mullen said postgame. "He’s one of the leaders of our defense, if not the leader of the defense out there... we need that steady performance from him week-in and week-out because he’s the guy that everybody looks to.”
Gators' secondary missed Shawn Davis, struggled in communication
Safety Shawn Davis, one of Florida's best coverage defenders from a year ago, was ejected from the game on the first drive for targeting on a hit-to-the-head on Ole Miss receiver Dontario Drummond. Safety Brad Stewart Jr. was also held out of the game, which was announced before kickoff.
It was all downhill from there in the Gators' secondary.
Ole Miss threw for 443 yards and three touchdowns against Florida's defense Saturday, with Moore leading the Rebels on 10 receptions for 227 yards. We'll have to rewatch the game for a better feel for the coverage calls and responsibilities, but safety Donovan Stiner notably allowed several receptions, especially moving deeper down the field. There were clear miscommunication issues that appeared to frustrate cornerback Marco Wilson throughout the game, as well.
It was easy to assume a Lane Kiffin-led Ole Miss offense would move the ball well through the air, but considering Florida's success as a passing defense a year ago (led the SEC in sacks and allowed only 202.1 passing yards per game), the secondary's performance was a shock and a disappointment that must improve if Florida is to contend in the conference this year.