While the No. 10 Gators’ season has been unexpectedly short so far, the team has forged a very clear identity through the first three games. Here are 10 things we’ve learned about them as they prepare to get back on the field this Saturday against Missouri.
1) The offense is better than expected. They were expected to make a jump this season, as they returned an effective veteran quarterback, an elite tight end, two experienced running backs, four returning starters on the offensive line, and a nice collection of young wide receivers. Still, nobody could have seen this offensive explosion coming. They’re averaging 464 total yards per game (fourth in the SEC), 342 passing yards per game (fourth), and 7.61 yards per play (second). Punter Jacob Finn has seen the field just four times. They’re able to almost score at will. The only problem is that they’re averaging just 61 plays per game, which leads right into the next thing we’ve learned …
2) The defense is worse than you thought possible. A small step back following the departure of key contributors at all three levels combined with the limited offseason would’ve been understandable. But these numbers are so hard to believe: 495 yards, 331 passing yards and 33.3 points per game. All three of those statistics rank next to last in the league. There are too many problems to count. The defensive line isn’t getting consistent pressure on quarterbacks or playing physical against the run, the linebackers look lost and the secondary is giving away big plays like they work for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
3) Quarterback Kyle Trask will be in the Heisman Trophy discussion all season long. He’s second in the conference with a 71.9 percent completion percentage, second with 9.7 yards per attempt, and still leads the conference with 14 touchdown passes despite having played two fewer games than most of the other quarterbacks in the league. His 996 passing yards through three games are the most by a Gator since Rex Grossman in 2001. His 416 yards in the opener against Ole Miss were the most by a Gator in a conference game since Grossman, and he became one of only 10 players in SEC history to throw six touchdowns against a conference opponent. As long as the Heisman voters don’t listen to the anti-Trask crusaders at Pro Football Focus, he’ll be mentioned as one of the top contenders for the award for the duration of the season.
4) Kyle Pitts is the best tight end in the country. OK, so we thought this was the case prior to the season, but Pitts has left no doubts with his performance so far this season. He leads UF with 274 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Those seven scores are tied for the single-season school record for a tight end. He now has 13 career touchdowns, which is also a program record for a tight end. He tied the single-game school record for any position with four touchdown catches against Ole Miss. His size and speed combination makes him an indefensible weapon, and his blocking has greatly improved this season. He’s ready to be plugged into an NFL starting lineup right now.
5) Kadarius Toney is the most improved player on the team. The slot receiver caught 10 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown as a junior in 2019; he’s caught a team-best 18 passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns so far this season. He’s already surpassed his rushing yards total from 2019 as well. Toney has looked like a legitimate wide receiver this season instead of a gadget player who dances around in the backfield for 10 seconds to get three yards. His route-running has been precise, he’s caught almost everything thrown his way and he’s gotten upfield quickly. Wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales has worked wonders with him.
6) The offensive line has gotten better. The Gators are averaging 4.8 yards per rush, second-best in the SEC, and Trask has been sacked just four times. Mississippi State transfer Stewart Reese has solidified the interior of the line, and Jean Delance has played surprisingly well at right tackle. But, the offensive line’s improvement hasn’t impacted the offense the way we thought it might before the season. Due to the success of the passing game, the Gators haven’t called many running plays and are 11th in the league in rushing yards per game. The offensive line has gone from a major weakness to a non-factor. It’ll be interesting to see how the unit holds up if they find themselves needing to run the ball to milk the clock late in games. Until that test comes, they get a passing grade.
7) The defense has really missed Jonathan Greenard and Kyree Campbell. Without Greenard, the Gators don’t have an elite pass-rusher that can singlehandedly wreak havoc and force opposing offenses to game plan around him. They’ve tried to piece a pass rush together by-committee, but it hasn’t worked at all. The BUCK position has combined for just two sacks through the first three games. Campbell’s absence in the first three games for undisclosed reasons has been just as impactful. The Gators are 10th in the conference in rushing yards surrendered per game, and they’re giving up 4.1 yards per carry. Without Campbell, Florida has had to move some guys around and play them in positions that they aren’t great fits at. Strongside end Zachary Carter has slid inside to become an undersized tackle. Brenton Cox has moved from BUCK to the strongside to replace Carter and hasn’t been physical enough. The defensive line is a shell of its former self right now.
8) Ventrell Miller is a capable replacement for David Reese at middle linebacker. He’s the only player on defense who has surpassed preseason expectations. He leads the team with 30 tackles and is tied for the team lead with three tackles-for-loss. He always seems to be around the ball in the running game and made a big third-down stop against Ole Miss. He recovered a fumble against South Carolina that helped the Gators build an insurmountable lead. He’s not the most athletic linebacker and he gives up his share of plays in coverage, but he’s a steady and consistent presence in the middle of the defense. Now they just need to find 10 other guys to play around him.
9) The secondary is a disaster. They’ve given up two touchdown passes of more than 45 yards, failed to intercept a pass, and allowed opponents to covert 61.1 percent of third and fourth downs. They’re giving up 8.6 yards per pass attempt, which is almost two full yards per attempt more than they gave up last year. Cornerback Marco Wilson and the players the Gators have rolled out there at STAR have struggled mightily, and the safeties still look as lost and clueless as they did last season. Even freshman phenom Kaiir Elam is experiencing a bit of a sophomore slump. Defensive backs gradually getting worse throughout their careers has become a disturbing trend over the past few years, and it’s hurting them in a big way this season.
10) This team could go 9-1, win the SEC and make the College Football Playoff – or go 6-4. That wide range of possible outcomes is what happens when you have one side of the ball that’s among the best in the country while the other side of the ball is among the worst. UF’s offense is good enough to beat anybody, and yes, that includes Georgia and Alabama. The defense, however, is bad enough to lose to everybody left on the schedule with the exception of Vanderbilt. If the defense can become even average and give the offense an extra 10 plays per game, this will be a top-5 team. If they don’t, this is a fringe top-15 team.