ARLINGTON, TX — Sports Illustrated/FanNation publishers John E. Hoover of AllSooners.com and Zach Goodall of AllGators.com exchanged five questions this week to help break down the Cotton Bowl matchup between No. 6-ranked Oklahoma and No. 7 Florida in the 85th Cotton Bowl Classic.
Let’s talk about Florida first:
HOOVER: Monday's news of three Florida receivers missing this game for various reasons, on the heels of Kyle Pitts opting out, would seem to devastate Kyle Trask's efforts in the passing game. Is there anyone left among the wideout group who could deliver a big game against Oklahoma, and do you expect any DBs or running backs to change positions on short notice?
GOODALL: Justin Shorter has been a presence of short-field consistency and has the skill-set to make really impressive plays as well, so I'd expect the ball to go his way plenty out of all of Florida's remaining wide receivers. I wouldn't think anybody would change positions necessarily as Florida should still carry seven receivers and three tight ends into Arlington, but running backs such as Malik Davis have flexed out wide all season long in the passing game. I'd expect an uptick in such motions and empty-set play calls.
HOOVER: After years of being average or worse, Oklahoma suddenly has one of college football's most fearsome defensive lines. Florida clearly has some good offensive linemen, but none earned All-SEC honors. Are the Gators up to the task up front, or might OU's front four have a big day?
GOODALL: The left side of Florida's line is pretty underrated in my opinion. It's been extremely sturdy in pass protection all season long, and I could see left tackle Stone Forsythe eventually finding a home at the next level and earning playing time (he's an absolute unit at 6-foot-9, 312 pounds).
The right side combo of Stewart Reese and Jean Delance, however, has been the polar opposite. Delance has been a constant liability in pass protection, and Reese hasn't been great on his own. To make matters worse, Reese has also taken on some of Delance's mishaps and had to do two jobs at once numerous times. Scheming twists and stunts with the left-side of Oklahoma's defensive front could create a lot of trouble for the Gators.
HOOVER: Dan Mullen loved utilizing Percy Harvin when he was offensive coordinator under Urban Meyer. He featured Kadarius Toney in a similar role this season (before Toney opted out). Will someone fill that role for the bowl game, or does Florida's offense need to now move in a different direction?
GOODALL: They have to move in a different direction. Florida doesn't have anyone on the roster with similar versatility, much less the ankle-breaking, law-of-gravity-defying elusiveness of Toney. UF has received heat from fans, media, analysts, the whole nine yards for its lacking run game, in which head coach Dan Mullen has jokingly replied with the idea of running the wishbone offense to get everyone to shut up. It hasn't happened yet, but if there was ever a game to bring that out...
HOOVER: How invested are the Gators in winning this game? When the head coach actually says the SEC title game is “probably the last time this team ever plays together,” does that hint that maybe Florida really couldn't care less about playing Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl?
GOODALL: I think the team is just tired, and I get it. After the early COVID-19 outbreak, UF has played eight straight games in the physical (but certainly underwhelming) 2020 Southeastern Conference. When Mullen said that, I'm sure he was taking that fact into account and preparing for several of his NFL-bound guys to step away from the program. But Mullen is a competitor, and I doubt the idea of opting out of this game ever crossed his mind, despite only having around 60 scholarship players making the trip. They'll come out and fight, but with so much talent putting their careers ahead of this bowl, it's hard to expect the same, good Florida team that we've seen throughout the year.
HOOVER: Oklahoma probably wasn't ready to win close games and lost twice early in the season, while Florida has lost two games late in the year. It looked like the Sooners grew up during the season and learned how to win. Besides Marco Wilson throwing a shoe and Alabama's sheer talent, what were the biggest reasons for the Gators' two recent losses?
GOODALL: Really, it was due to the same issues that could be seen all year that Florida managed to sweep under the rug given its dominant passing game and ability to score points: Being one-dimensional on offense, and being sloppy all across the defense.
Opposing defenses did not respect Florida's run game and consistently dropped 7+ into coverage as the year went on, often calling dime packages and forcing Kyle Trask to pick them apart. In fairness, he did so, even in losses, but it wasn't enough to overcome their other issues. Defensively, Florida never learned how to tackle or defend a simple slant-route, which equated to an obvious losing formula against a powerhouse in Alabama.
Given Oklahoma's firepower, paired with UF's offensive opt-outs, I'm not sure the Gators have a winning formula put together for this game, either.