Kyle to Kyle. Trask to Pitts. Heisman to Mackey?
No matter which way it’s said, this quarterback-tight end tandem for the Florida Gators lit up the college football world on the first weekend of SEC action. Picking up right where the two left off at the end of last season and then some, Kyle Trask and Kyle Pitts both put together spectacular performances in their first outing of the 2020 season.
With Trask putting together a career outing, throwing for 416 yards and six touchdowns—tying Joe Burrow’s touchdown record for most in an SEC conference-opening game—and Pitts on the receiving end of four of those TD tosses, the Florida Gators rolled on offense en route to a 51 point performance on Saturday.
However, not everything was sunshine and rainbows for the Gators in week one. Struggling to defend against Lane Kiffin and the newly established offense of Ole Miss, the Gators had some dark spots to compliment the light ones in their debut.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly from the Gators 16-point victory versus Ole Miss.
The Good: Offensive Production
Coming into their first action of the season, Florida looked to be in midseason form in nearly every facet of the game offensively.
Led by the aforementioned duo of Trask and Pitts, Florida’s offense put together a noteworthy performance as a unit in week one. Putting up over 600 yards in total offense and 51 points, the Dan Mullen led unit had their way against D.J. Durkin and the Rebels defense.
Going into the year, Trask and Pitts provided Florida stability with questions surrounding the remainder of the Gators offense: Could UF improve its production in the run game? Who will replace the four wide receivers that left for the draft? Will the offensive line take the next step?
Despite still being early in the season, those questioned began to be answered in a positive light.
For one, the Gators run game looked to be better in game one. Averaging 6.8 yards per carry as a team, running backs Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis carried the load in the backfield on a combined 16 attempts for 103 yards.
However, the most impressive development in the game for the longevity of the Gators season has to be the fact that 11 different wideouts stepped up to catch passes for the Gators, including seven of which reeling in more than one. Specifically, Kadarius Toney showcased improvements made during the offseason, playing the traditional receiver role very well.
Showing an increased ability to run routes, Toney was on the receiving end of five balls and totaled 59 yards and one touchdown on those five receptions—also adding two carries for 55 yards—adding up to whopping 16.3 yards per touch. Toney looked to emphasize limiting negative yardage plays, pushed the ball forward instead of backward like he has been known to do in the past.
With Toney being the dynamic playmaker that he is, building off of today’s performance could result in the number of touches, many have expected him to get since his arrival in Gainesville.
The Bad: 35 points and over 600 yards allowed to Ole Miss Offense
Yes, the Gators’ defense did not live up to expectations in week one. They allowed a young quarterback in his first action in a new system have a career day against the team he was once committed to during his recruitment process.
The exterior looks as if there may be a reason to press the panic button for the Florida defense, but in the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast, my friend!”
The Gators defensive unit took the field today without several significant players, including Kyree Campbell and Jeremiah Moon on the line, James Houston IV at linebacker, and Brad Stewart Jr. in a backend that struggled significantly. Those held out were then joined by Shawn Davis Jr. when he was ejected following a targeting penalty ten plays into the game.
As a result, the Gators defense fell victim of an unpredictable Ole Miss offensive unit. One that provided little if any film to get an authentic feel for what they were expecting to compete against.
However, bright spots appeared in the form of Brenton Cox Jr., who accounted for eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack in his first action in the orange and blue, along with Ventrell Miller, who debuted at the middle linebacker position, going for an SEC-high 15 tackles (13 solo), two TFLs, and a sack while.
It may have been a struggle for the UF defense today, but the likelihood of this outing repeating itself is slim to none in the future.
Getting back the critical pieces, the unit was lacking yesterday and will have the adequate tools in preparation to not replicate their week one performance, at least in the front seven.
The Ugly: Secondary Play
Florida’s secondary is an area for concern.
Even though the Gators were without a critical rotational piece at safety in Stewart and lost a starter in Davis due to a targeting call, Florida’s secondary left a lot to be desired at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Pairing together lackluster performances from the unit as a whole and the evident lack of depth of the safety room, Matt Corral had his way in his first game of Lane Kiffin’s offense.
Exploiting the miscommunication issues that were bound to be present when true freshman safety Rashad Torrence II took over for Davis following his ejection, the Gators allowed just over 600 yards to a newly implemented Ole Miss offense.
With shaky coverage play all over, specifically from Donovan Stiner, Marco Wilson, and Kaiir Elam, Florida consistently got beat over the top by Elijah Moore and Dontario Drummond, ultimately leading to the 35 point outing from the Rebels.
The inability to play in the backend plagued Florida at times last season and has the possibility of doing it again in 2020 if the issue isn’t fixed and done so quickly.