Week 1 Florida Gators Stock Report: Kyles Going Up; Secondary, Depth Down
With football season finally making a return, the weekly Florida Gators stock report will also be making a comeback.
This past weekend, the Florida Gators defeated the Ole Miss Rebels, 51-35. Florida offense put on a show in the win, posting 642 yards as the Gators only punted once. The Gators' defense looked abysmal, but many knew the matchup would be difficult as Lane Kiffin is a schematic coach and knows how to pick apart matchups, which is exactly what he did. Despite the poor defensive showing, the Gators still got the job done and escaped Oxford with a win.
Now time to break down whos stock went up and who's dropped after the Gators first SEC game.
Quarterback Kyle Trask
Obvious, I know. Trask had one of the best games in UF history, posting 416 yards on 30-of-42 passing, adding six touchdowns to his resume to kick off the 2020 season.
Trask looked transformed as he improved his pocket presence and his reads, as he was not as quick to check down before letting the play develop first. His arm strength also looked better from last year as he was 4/5 for 126 yards for four touchdowns when throwing past 20 yards.
He also made several accurate throws while under heavy duress, both on the run and in the pocket, another improvement from his tape a year ago. It was only one game against a not-great defense, but Trask put the nation on notice in week one and looks to build upon that performance this week against South Carolina.
Tight end Kyle Pitts
Like Trask, there isn't much to be said about Pitts. Simply put, there is no better tight end in the nation and he will be the first tight end off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft if he continues to play like this.
It's doubtful that any defensive back or linebacker in the NCAA can guard this 6-6, 240-pound athletic specimen one-on-one, and he will catch just about any ball thrown his way. Pitts ended the Ole Miss game with eight catches for 170 yards and a whopping four touchdowns. The Kyle to Kyle connection is as alive as ever.
Slot receiver Kadarius Toney
After waiting for years for Toney to develop into an every-down receiver, Gators fans finally got there wish as he looked outstanding playing in the slot against Ole Miss. Toney had 59 receiving yards on five catches and had little issue against man coverage throughout the day. Toney looked crisp in his route running and focused on running vertically instead of side to side, which was his main criticism in past years.
Toney's hesitation and ball carrying moves were as effective as ever and he was making defenders look silly throughout the game. On top of his 59 receiving yards, Toney added another 55 on two carries, one of which went for 50 yards. The senior has also taken over the kick and punt return duties for the Gators.
The offensive line
After the constant struggles of last year's offensive line, Florida fans were begging for improvement at the position. So far, so good.
Although it is early, it seems as if the Gators have once again established a run game with veteran backs Malik Davis and Dameon Pierce leading the charge. Pass protection was again a strong suit for the Gators offensive line, and Trask aided the line by maneuvering the pocket better than he did last season. Stewart Reese, the new addition at guard, looked solid in his UF debut, while tackle Stone Forsthye and center Brett Heggie looked improved as well. All in all, the Gators only allowed one sack against the Rebels.
Defensive end Brenton Cox Jr.
The five-star Georgia transfer looked the part on Saturday, showing off why he was given the infamous No. 1 despite never playing a snap at Florida. Cox was creating quarterback pressure all afternoon, adding eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack to his stat line.
Most notably, Cox caused an early turnover with a pass deflection, one that was intercepted by freshman Gervon Dexter for a vital turnover in the first half. Cox is a freak of nature as an athlete, and will be exciting to watch as the UF defense continues to improve.
Linebacker Ventrell Miller
The veteran linebacker showed incredible promise on Saturday after slimming down this offseason, as he dropped over 15 pounds to become more agile. That showed against the Rebels as Miller led the Gators in tackles with 15 total tackles, one sack, and two tackles for loss. He earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance.
The junior from Lakeland, Florida is now the commander-in-chief on defense, taking over for David Reese II as he graduated last year. With question marks all over the defense, Miller has established himself as a leader and one of the defenses best players.
With senior Shawn Davis being ejected early in the first quarter, Florida's secondary struggles were apparent throughout the rest of the game as its depth was exposed. Normally the secondary is one of the team's strongest aspects, but the unit allowed 443 passing yards, 227 alone to Ole Miss slot receiver Elijah Moore.
Once Davis was gone, freshman Rashad Torrence II was quickly pushed into action in his first game as a Florida Gator. Torrence held his own, racking up eight tackles, but his inexperience hurt the team in deep coverage and having Davis on the backend could have made a big difference.
Senior safety Donovan Stiner also looked like his old self by getting caught looking into the backfield and getting beat in coverage. Stiner was picked on for much of the afternoon, allowing multiple big plays which wasn't expected as he improved thoroughly in coverage towards the end of last season.
After making the switch to safety this offseason, Trey Dean III looked comfortable being back in his natural position. His sample size was limited to 19 snaps, however, Dean made numerous downhill plays against the run that weren't seen during his time at STAR nickel corner in 2019.
Despite the win, Florida was presented with a variety of personnel issues across the board, especially on defense.
With strictly the group of ones on the field, Florida has the potential to make a run at a National Championship. However, depth remains an issue at this time. Some of this was due to gameday inactives, as nose tackle Kyree Campbell, Buck rush end Jeremiah Moon, safety Brad Stewart Jr., linebacker James Houston IV, and others missed the game, which led to some clear growing pains as younger and inexperienced defenders took the field in place of veterans.
Providing those young players game reps in a win is important, especially this early in the season. The issue is that some of those players don't move the needle just yet, meaning it's fair to question if the Gators can make a run should some things don't go exactly as planned with their personnel.