Following Saturday’s crushing 41-38 loss to Texas A&M, the No. 10 Gators enter a week that will likely shape the type of season they will have.
Beat LSU at home, and all of the championship goals for the season will remain alive, albeit under the premise that one of the worst defenses in school history will have to improve drastically in a short period of time. Lose that game, and UF (2-1) will have nothing more to play for this season other than individual accolades for Kyle Trask and Kyle Pitts.
Here are three observations, two questions, and one prediction ahead of LSU week.
1) Dan Mullen was more visibly upset and frustrated during his postgame press conference than after any of his other losses at UF. Normally, Mullen calmly analyzes what went wrong during the game and lays out the plan for improvement. He avoids making emotional statements and pushing the panic button. That wasn’t the case after this loss. His press conference was only about six minutes long, and his answers were shorter than usual. Like the rest of Gator Nation, he’s clearly fed up with the lack of defensive progress. After the first two games, he expressed optimism that the defense would catch up to the offense as this weird season rolled along. After losing to the Aggies, he said they would evaluate some things personnel-wise and hinted at some possible changes coming soon. For the first time, Mullen seemed defeated and discouraged after a loss.
2) For whatever reason, the Gators have had a difficult time keeping Pitts involved. He caught three passes for 28 yards and a touchdown on their opening drive against the Aggies. He then caught just two passes for 19 yards the rest of the game. The week prior, against South Carolina, he was shutout in the second half. Defenses haven’t appeared to do anything drastically different in the second halves; Trask just isn’t throwing the ball his way as often. Perhaps this has something to do with UF’s defense not giving them the ball very often in the second half. The Gators ran 22 second half plays against South Carolina and followed that up with 23 plays against Texas A&M. With the decreased number of plays, the offense has looked out of sync at times, and Pitts has been one of the biggest victims of that.
3) Saturday was a very sobering reality check for the Gators and their fans. The Gators averaged just 3.8 yards per rush and gave up 5.4. Meanwhile, three-time defending SEC East Champion Georgia held Tennessee to negative-one yard rushing in their game on Saturday. Florida and Georgia don’t even look like they’re playing the same sport. Closing the gap along the lines of scrimmage has been a major focus for the Gators over the past couple of years, but it looks like they’re still a ways behind.
1) What kind of personnel changes are in store for the defense, and how impactful will they be? One decision they might make is to give some of the young linebackers, such as Ty’Ron Hopper and Derek Wingo (if available), a chance. They are the two most athletic linebackers on the team, but the knock on them is that they’re not quite physical enough to play at the SEC level yet. However, could they really get pushed around any more than the current linebackers are? Moving Zachary Carter back to defensive end and inserting Gervon Dexter into the starting lineup could be another course of action. On the back end, freshman nickel Tre’Vez Johnson could be in line for more playing time, and Marco Wilson might see his number of snaps decreased. This defense has reached the point where there’s virtually no advantage to going with the more experienced guys. If the defense is going to be horrible this year, why not at least try to develop players for the future in the process?
2) Is there a point where the offense cracks from the pressure of having to carry the entire team? You saw it in reverse from 2010-17. In those seasons, the defense dominated early in the season while the offense sputtered. Eventually, once the defense realized that the offense was never going to be good enough to accomplish their team goals, the defense lost hope and caved. Might a similar thing happen to the offense if the defense doesn’t make a ton of improvement soon? It’s hard to remain motivated and play as hard as you can when you know that nothing you do will be good enough to overcome the deficiencies on the other side of the ball.
1) Florida and LSU will combine for at least 1,000 yards and 80 points. This weekend the Tigers somehow managed to have an even worse day than the Gators did defensively, as they gave up 45 points and 586 yards to an average-at-best Missouri team. Of course, they also gave up an SEC record 623 passing yards to Mississippi State quarterback K.J. Costello in their opener. This should be another one of those games where the team that scores more touchdowns in the red zone and manages the clock the best at the end of each half will prevail.