Following a unique 2020 season, many programs around the nation have been looking to reestablish themselves and their identity through their offseason programs.
The Florida Gators' identity rested in the unsustainable hope to outscore opponents with a high-powered passing attack and lackluster defensive efforts. However, in 2021, Florida looks to overcome last year's narrative, engineering success on both sides of the ball.
To do so, the Gators — like the great teams of college football — will look to find their identity through a select handful of players vying to establish themselves as the undenied leaders of the pack.
In anticipation of another year of high expectations for Florida football, AllGators analyzes five individuals that could make or break UF's season with their on-field production as well as their impact off of it.
The Gators No. 1 make-or-break player is the offensive head honcho and newly appointed QB1 Emory Jones.
This list was created with the possibility of players booming or busting in 2021 in mind. As a result, defensive back Kaiir Elam — while surely considered a key piece to Florida’s success — was omitted given his surefire reliability from a production standpoint.
The new face of Dan Mullen’s patented smash-mouth spread offense has arrived.
Being the Achilles heel for the team during the early and mid-2010s, the quarterback position has seen a resurgence in Mullen’s time at the helm. Commanding the unit to increased production in each of his three seasons, the slope of offensive efficiency continues to trend upward, with 2021 being no exception.
Following the sustained excellence of Kyle Trask in 2020, Jones is the next man up in the batter’s box of Florida signal callers, a long wait that — while he didn’t expect — Jones believes will be worth it.
“I did not know it was going to take this long. But I was getting better every day and developing, and that’s all he preached to me and we’re here now,” Jones said.
As a hot commodity out of high school, Jones was the first quarterback addition to the Gators roster following Mullen’s hiring before the 2018 season. Growing beneath Mullen’s tutelage since his arrival in Gainesville, Jones feels equipped to take on the role as the Gators' starter under center.
However, with Jones possessing a different style of quarterback play than his predecessors, the Gators will see a seismic shift in how the offense operates. Crediting Mullen for his ability to tailor his offense to the strengths of who’s under center, Jones is confident that his acclimation period to in-game reps will be minimal.
“Coach Mullen, he definitely uses his offense around the quarterback. Whatever type, style quarterback you are, he’s going to make it happen. For me, just a different skill set. I feel I can do anything on the field.”
Gravitating more towards an even run-pass split than the skewed mark heavily favoring the pass in the past two years, UF is set to utilize designed quarterback runs and play-action RPO concepts in more volume with Jones calling the shots.
Providing an extra dimension to the ground game — accounting for 514 total yards, 5.6 yards per carry and six touchdowns on 92 carries in his career — Jones making plays on his feet will come early and often for UF. Likewise, Jones’ ability to complete balls with considerable zip and accurate placement deep down the field will shine through for the first-year starter.
Meanwhile, many take the title of dual-threat with a negative connotation, often knocking the passing skills. As a result, the concern in Jones’ game has been his ability to adhere to the expectations as a routine passer, despite spending three years under Mullen’s tutelage.
Showcasing a big arm and ability to fit balls into tight windows in his limited appearances, spurts of inaccuracy at short and intermediate levels, and inexperience in high-pressure settings present room for error.
However, Jones’ teammates have recently refuted the misconception that he isn’t a dangerous passer. In fact, tight end Kemore Gamble and running back Dameon Pierce tabbed him to be “pass first” and a “mobile pocket passer,” while wideout Justin Shorter emphasized that the efforts that they have put into their chemistry will pay dividends for his success this season.
Jones grabs the reins of the Florida offense with the capability of replicating last year’s production. Now, the next step is for him to put it altogether away from the practice field come Sep. 4.
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