After nearly a month of playing the waiting game and watching other teams, the No. 9 Florida Gators (10-2, 6-2) finally return to the gridiron. Playing in the Capital One Orange Bowl, they’ll face the No. 24 Virginia Cavaliers (9-4) in South Florida.
Florida enters Monday night’s contest as two-touchdown favorites and they will be looking to make another statement in the 2019 season, as they’ve felt overlooked throughout the season.
A second-straight New Year’s Six Bowl win is in the Gators sights, with the Cavaliers standing in their way of that.
With Florida coming in as heavy favorites, here are the five Gators on the spot in the Orange Bowl, should the Gators win consecutive NY6 Bowls.
- Kaiir Elam, Cornerback
Life after C.J. Henderson for the Gators has officially begun with the team prepping for the Orange Bowl. The lockdown corner announced his intentions to go pro, ending his collegiate career with that decision. That will now throw Kaiir Elam into the fire, but it won’t be anything new for the true freshman. Elam has had a standout freshman campaign in the Gators secondary, stepping up when Henderson missed time with an ankle injury and when Marco Wilson moved inside to STAR. Now, he will patrol his side of the field and figures to be doing so for years to come for Florida. One could imagine that Virginia will look to attack Elam’s side of the field, but he will be more than prepared. The Orange Bowl could be a great indication for what’s to come in the future for Elam and he should have some opportunities to make some plays on the ball.
- Mohamoud Diabate, Linebacker
The argument can be made that no player on the Gators defense has burst onto the scene more to close the season than Mohamoud Diabate. He had his collegiate breakout game against Vanderbilt, as the true freshman from Alabama registered three sacks, making his presence felt. As the season progressed, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has called on Diabate much more and they’ve been able to utilize his greatest strength. His speed. There’s not many at the position that can move like Diabate and you can bet his speed will be used to Florida’s advantage. It’s no secret what the Cavaliers bread-and-butter is offensively, Bryce Perkins’ dual-threat ability. To slow down Perkins legs, Florida may try to utilize Diabate as a spy backer and will use him as a pass rusher, where he’s been most effective.
- Trevon Grimes, Wide Receiver
He hasn’t formally announced his intentions to go pro or play out his remaining eligibility, but most signs point to Trevon Grimes returning to campus for another year in Orange and Blue. Should that happen, that’s a big win for the Gators due to the serious production they are losing in their receiving corps. The great group of senior wideouts will get more chance to show out, but the Orange Bowl could serve as a great opportunity to get Grimes cooking for what could be a huge 2020 campaign. Should he return, Grimes will no doubt lock up Florida’s No. 1 spot in the receiver room. It’s no secret that Florida’s offense has leaned on the air-attack and the Cavaliers pass defense hasn’t been as good as their rush defense. That should allow the Gators to throw the ball around and maybe hit some big plays through the air. If I’m Dan Mullen, I’m calling Grimes number quite a bit and dialing up some plays to show him what could be should he return next year.
- Jonathan Greenard, BUCK
The final rendition of Five on the Spot for the 2019 season wouldn’t be the same without Florida’s MVP of the year, Jonathan Greenard. The grad transfer has done wonders for the Gators defense this season, while also boosting his draft stock. Greenard once wondered if he would ever play the game at this level again and now after his dominant season, he’s more than likely going to hear his name on Day 1 or Day 2 of the NFL Draft. Some wondered if he would even suit up for the bowl game, but Greenard appears to be all business ahead of his last outing in the jersey he once dreamed of wearing. On the edge, Greenard will also have to due his part in containing the legs of Bryce Perkins and will have to pin his ears back to get after the Cavaliers dual-threat passer. If he’s taught us anything this season, he lives for big games like this, so it’s only right he goes out with a bang.
- Lamical Perine, Running Back
Another Gator in his final game in the Orange and Blue is Lamical Perine and he’s more than deserving of one last curtain call. It’s been well documented that Perine hasn’t had the year many expected, due to the Gators run game never hitting full stride. But with that being said, this could be a game where Perine could break a few runs. Virginia has been talking about slowing the Gators passing attack and will likely try to make that a focus, but if they’re smart they will not forget about Perine in the backfield. He exploded last year in the Peach Bowl as Mullen got him involved on the ground and in the air through a number of tunnel screens. Should the Cavaliers bottle up the Florida ground attack, Mullen may try to incorporate Perine in the passing attack. You won’t find a guy who loves being a Gator as much as Perine does and there’s no doubt he wants to conclude his career with one final exclamation point.