Florida Football 3-2-1: Looking ahead to the 2020 season

Sep 20, 2020 | 0 comments

After a longer-than-usual offseason that we hopefully won’t have to endure ever again, it’s finally game week. The No. 5 Gators travel to Oxford, Mississippi, to take on Ole Miss on Saturday at noon.

Due to the understandable lack of access to the team this offseason, much about the 2020 Gators remains a mystery, making this season opener even more compelling. Here are three observations, two questions, and one prediction about the team based on what we’ve heard in press conferences.

Three Observations

1) Despite not signing a high school running back in the 2020 class, Florida likes the depth they have at tailback. Malik Davis said he finally feels comfortable and explosive again following his major injuries in 2017 and 2018. Even his coaches, who normally don’t like to praise players by name, have remarked about how improved he looks this fall. Dan Mullen said he “looked like the Malik Davis that I saw when I got here before I became the head coach.” He figures to split carries with Dameon Pierce, a bruising runner who is UF’s most accomplished runner. Miami transfer Lorenzo Lingard has impressed Mullen with his skills and work ethic but still needs to catch up in his knowledge of the offense. After Lamical Perine served as the workhorse last season, the Gators could be deeper in the backfield this season.

2) They also like the young talent they have at the receiver position, particularly freshman Xzavier Henderson. Both quarterback Kyle Trask and tight end Kyle Pitts mentioned Henderson as one of the young players who stood out to them most. Henderson got a chance to practice with the first team at the start of the fall while Trevon Grimes, Jacob Copeland, and Kadarius Toney flirted with opting out of the season. Mullen also said redshirt freshmen Trent Whittemore and Ja’Markis Weston have been more consistent this fall. If the Gators find themselves in a position where they don’t have their front-line receivers, they won’t be afraid to keep slinging the ball if needed.

3) With so many players who can play multiple positions, the defense should be more versatile. Mohamoud Diabate is taking reps at both BUCK and outside linebacker. Zachary Carter can slide inside on passing downs. Marco Wilson is cross-training at cornerback and STAR. Trey Dean is working at corner and safety. Amari Burney is playing both linebacker and STAR. This is significant for a couple of reasons. First, having players who are capable of doing multiple things will keep the Gators from being predictable and prevent opposing offenses from taking advantage of mismatches by going up-tempo. Second, with the volatility that is likely to happen this season with positive tests and contact tracing, it’s important to have backups that can slide in and not miss a beat.

Two Questions

1) After struggling the last two years, just how improved is the offensive line? The answer to this question could determine whether UF competes for a national championship or not. Mullen and offensive line coach John Hevesy believe that returning four starters from the abysmal 2019 unit combined with adding graduate transfer Stewart Reese will provide the winning formula upfront. They really need that to be more than just wishful thinking. Mullen’s offense is predicated around a powerful downhill running game opening up short play-action throws. Instead, they basically ran a modified version of the Air Raid last season. A lot of people like to point to Kyle Trask’s lack of mobility as holding back the offense, but, in reality, it’s the offensive line that is to blame. They need this unit to at least be average this season.

2) This Saturday in Oxford, will the lack of atmosphere hurt Florida or Ole Miss more? Ole Miss is allowing 25 percent capacity for their games, which comes out to around 16,000 fans. Plus, it’s a noon game, which are notorious for having a bland atmosphere to begin with. Will not having 65,000+ fans screaming at them when they have the ball help Florida, or will the nonexistent ambiance lull them to sleep and benefit the Rebels? UF’s coaches and players have said all the right things about controlling what they can control and bringing their own energy, but it’s another thing to actually do it. How this plays out will be interesting to watch, not just in Oxford but around the country.

One Prediction

1) This game, being the season opener, will look extremely sloppy at times. After each of the team’s two scrimmages, Mullen commented that they struggled with basic parts of the game such as penalties, turnovers and tackling. The Gators are an experienced team with nine of 10 coaches returning from last season. Imagine how sloppy Ole Miss will look with an almost entirely new coaching staff and an undecided quarterback battle. This won’t be the most aesthetically pleasing game, but it’s SEC football, and after all that we’ve been through this year, we’ll love it all the same.

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