Gators Stock Report: Copeland Up, Run Defense Down and More!
The Florida Gators pulled out an ugly win against SEC East foe, the South Carolina Gamecocks, this past weekend. With the win, Florida has moved to first place in the SEC East, and they will look to punch their ticket to the 2019 SEC Championship game next week against the Georgia Bulldogs.
Florida started slow in the first half, but they pulled away in the early in the fourth quarter as they have done multiple times this season. Who saw their stock rise, or plummet, following the victory?
QB Kyle Trask: The redshirt junior continued to sling it, even through a downpour, and even helped in the run game when he was tasked with doing so. Trask has improved tremendously with his pocket presence in recent weeks, maneuvering through pressure much better than he did in the Auburn game. The offensive line has shown a bit of improvement in pass protection, which helps, but there is still a ways to go for that unit - making Trask's growth in that area super important.
Trask threw for a career-high four touchdowns, making him the first Florida quarterback to do so on the road since Tim Tebow back in 2007. Trask finished the day with 21 completions on 33 attempts, with 200 yards, four touchdowns, and only one interception.
Trask continues to take advantage of his opportunity to start at quarterback, after seven years of waiting.
WR Jacob Copeland: The redshirt freshman caught three passes for 89 yards and a touchdown this past weekend, as he finally made his hard work pay off.
Copeland has been getting consistent reps in big games all year, and he finally made it count for his first career SEC touchdown. Copeland scored on a 37-yard seam route early in the 2nd Quarter, as he high pointed the ball and beat a few more defenders on his way to the end zone. The Pensacola native has changed his preparation recently, and it is obvious as his play has been much improved over the past two weeks.
It’s been a long time coming, but Jacob Copeland has finally arrived as a weapon in Billy Gonzales’ jam-packed wide receiver room.
CB C.J Henderson: Although he was beaten once deep in coverage (and still played the ball well), C.J. Henderson made scouts watch him last weekend with his plays in run support and his improved ability to tackle.
Many spectators have criticized Henderson’s “inability to tackle”, yet there was nothing but good things to say about his play in that department against the Gamecocks. The junior embraced contact all day and ended up with nine total tackles, a sack, and one pass deflection. Henderson is feeling the effects of the SEC grind, as he has been matched up with Ja’Marr Chase, Bryan Edwards, and Seth Williams all in the past three weeks.
However, he’s been challenged often and has held his ground more times than not. Over that course, Henderson has allowed a 50% completion percentage (11 receptions on 22 targets) when targeted in coverage.
DL Zachary Carter: The strongside defensive end offered some relief that the Gators needed without Jabari Zuniga, and flashed some impressive reps throughout the South Carolina game.
The former four-star from Tampa, Florida was credited with two tackles, one sack, and a forced fumble, but his impact went much deeper than the stat sheet. Carter was consistently getting into the backfield on both run and pass plays and created pressure all day. Pro Football Focus credits him with three QB pressures and two defensive stops, with a total grade of 87.3 (a pro bowl grade), which encompasses his true impact more so compared to the actual box score.
Run Defense: The run defense was awful all day, as the Gators gave up 217 yards on the ground - their second game in a row allowing at least 200 yards.
The Florida linebackers were picked apart, as many assignments were missed which led to multiple long runs. Florida gave up four runs of 20+ yards and seven of 10+ yards on Saturday, as Carolina continued to rotate between Mon Denson and Tavien Feaster. Feaster, a Clemson transfer went for 175 yards alone, which was more rushing yards than Florida had as a team.
The blame can be placed on everyone, from the defensive line to the linebackers and even to the safeties. The defensive line and linebackers have struggled with gap discipline all year, and the safeties’ angles are abysmal. The defensive got gashed multiple times due to not filling gaps, and when you have safeties that can’t pursuit correctly, horrible things happen.
This is concerning going into the Georgia game, as the Bulldogs will rely on their running game all afternoon to beat the Gators in Jacksonville. Florida will face D’Andre Swift, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, and Cam Akers before season’s end, so this area will need the utmost attention in practice.
Depth: The Gators have gone through a grind of a schedule recently, playing Auburn, LSU, and South Carolina in the past three weeks. Luckily, the Gators have a bye before Georgia, and both teams will take two weeks of preparation and rest.
Florida is banged up, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive ends Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga were ruled out of the South Carolina game before kickoff, and Copeland, Henderson, DE Jeremiah Moon, and WR Trevon Grimes all left the field at one point with an injury in Columbia.
The Gators aren’t very deep at multiple positions due to attrition and poor roster management from the former staff, and these next two weeks will be vital to the recovery and health of the whole team.