FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
- Florida late-season NFL Draft preview (Part I)
- Florida late-season NFL Draft preview (Part II)
- Defensive Commitment List Rundown
- Offensive Commitment List Rundown
- On the Mark: Is the recruiting tide turning for Florida at IMG Academy
- Parental Perspective: Gamble rewards mom’s bravery
- Where are they Now: Shane Matthews talks Florida Football
Happy Thanksgiving, Gator Nation! We hope you have a safe and fun day surrounded by food, family, and, of course, football.
2020 has presented challenges that would’ve seemed unimaginable nine months ago, but we all still have so much to be thankful for. And, yes, that includes Gator football.
As we do each year on Thanksgiving, here is our list of 10 things you should be thankful for as a Gator fan.
1) Having a season at all
Whether or not there would be a 2020 college football season amid the COVID-19 pandemic was a hotly debated issue throughout the spring and summer. One week, things would look great; the next week, not so much. Things looked extremely bleak when the Big Ten and Pac-12 initially announced in August that they would be postponing their seasons to at least the spring, and the rest of the Power Five conferences were expected to follow suit. Instead, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and the rest of the league’s administrators persevered and delivered fans an exciting 10-game, conference-only season. Though the Gators suffered a major COVID outbreak in mid-October, their season has gone off without a hitch otherwise, and they may get to play all 10 games. Here’s to you, Mr. Sankey.
2) Beating Georgia
The Gators needed a victory in Jacksonville in the worst way. Dan Mullen lost his first two games against the Bulldogs, and his offense failed to produce more than 300 yards or 17 points in either game. With the Bulldogs continuing to recruit at the sport’s highest level, it was fair to wonder if this game would be an obstacle in Mullen’s way forever. You don’t have to worry about that anymore. In the short term, the win put the Gators in the driver’s seat in the SEC East and gives Gators fans the all-important right to troll Georgia fans on social media for the next year. In the long term, this win could have an impact on recruiting, and the Gators will head to Jacksonville with confidence next year.
3) Kyle Trask
In 2017, Florida’s two starting quarterbacks combined for 10 touchdown passes the entire season, and two of those were to completely uncovered receivers in the Kentucky game. Trask has thrown for six touchdowns in a game twice this season. Quarterback play at UF has come a long way. He leads the nation with 31 touchdown passes, and there’s a chance he could break Danny Wuerffel’s school record of 39 touchdown passes in a season at Neyland Stadium in Tennessee. How cool would that be? He’s a Heisman Trophy contender, if not the frontrunner, and his incredible accuracy and anticipation have been the catalyst for this magical season.
4) Kyle Pitts
We all knew Pitts was one of the best tight ends in the country before the season started, but did anybody envision this level of dominance? He caught eight passes for 170 yards and a school-record-tying four touchdowns in the opener against Ole Miss. He established a new school record for touchdowns in a season by a tight end with eight – in the fifth game. There’s not a single defensive player in the country that can cover him, and he’s even made a few catches while being double-teamed. He draws a ton of defensive attention, which makes things easier for the other receivers. You may never see another Gator player like him ever again or anywhere else in college football for that matter.
5) Blue helmets
The Gators have been a bit more adventurous with the uniforms under Mullen, with the team breaking out 1960s-style throwbacks for a game each of the last two seasons and the all-white stormtrooper look on a couple of occasions. Breaking out the blue helmets was one of the last frontiers. They looked good with the throwback jerseys, but can you imagine how sharp they’ll look with the black jerseys that UF figures to debut in the next couple of years?
6) Billy Gonzales
With four senior receivers gone from the 2019 team, the cupboard appeared somewhat bare at wide receiver entering this season. Instead, thanks in no small part to Gonzales’ coaching, the production hasn’t dropped off at all. Trevon Grimes is finally playing like a 6-foot-4 playmaker instead of a tentative player who patiently waits for the ball to land in his hands. Kadarius Toney is much more polished as a route-runner, is catching the ball better, and is more under control when he gets the ball in space. His seven touchdown catches already are more than triple the number of receiving touchdowns he entered the season with. Justin Shorter looks less like the guy who couldn’t find playing time at Penn State and more like the five-star recruit every week. You can question Gonzales’ recruiting at times, but you cannot deny the fact that he produces results as well as or better than any other receivers coach in the country.
7) Offensive line improvement
This has been one of the more underrated keys to the Gators’ offensive explosion this season. They don’t run the ball much, but when they do, they’re averaging 4.3 yards a pop. Despite throwing it more than everybody else in the league except for Mississippi State, they’ve surrendered the second-fewest number of sacks. This improvement has allowed the Gators to pick up big first downs and touchdowns on the ground and allowed Mullen to dial up some longer-developing passing plays down the field.
8) Ventrell Miller
He’s the only one on defense who seems to consistently have a clue about what’s going on. He leads the team with 47 tackles and is tied for third with two passes defensed and 1.5 sacks. He’s not the fastest linebacker, and he gives up his share of completions in coverage, but he’s a tough, physical player that the Gators can count on to make a big run stuff when they need one. He’s fought through some bumps and bruises this season. Thank goodness he has; where would UF’s defense be without him?
9) Kyree Campbell
With Campbell unavailable for the first three games of the season, Florida gave up 164 rushing yards per game. With Campbell back in the middle penetrating the backfield and drawing multiple blockers for the last four games, they gave up 125 yards per game. His return also allowed Zachary Carter and Brenton Cox to move back to their more natural positions, which has amped up the pass-rush a bit. Campbell has produced more impact plays this season than we’re used to seeing out of him, as he’s recorded 2.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks. He established a new career high with seven tackles against Vanderbilt. It’s a tossup between he and Miller for the title of most valuable defensive player.
10) Dan Mullen
Last but not least is the man who’s responsible for it all. With a win over Kentucky this week, he would pass Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer for the best record through 34 games in school history at 28-6. When he took the Florida job late in 2017, many assumed that he would bring the rushing-dominant spread-option offense back to the Gators, and perhaps in time, he will. In the interim, he’s adapted incredibly well to the quarterback he has to work with, and he and Trask are breaking some of Spurrier’s records that some thought might never be broken. The offense is operating with near-flawless efficiency, the Gators pounded Georgia, a new standalone facility is on the way, and recruiting is on the upswing. There haven’t been too many better times to be a Gator fan.