Note: There are a lot of important decisions that will be made in the next two or three weeks that could ultimately decide if we have a season and how that season plays out. We will continue our preview series until the SEC officially alters/cancels the season and the preview series will continue until updated and completed.
Catch up on previous 2020 opponent previews!
I miss the Will Muschamp era at Florida. Remember those years? When they would recruit at the same elite level they always do but played a mega conservative offense that kept games a lot closer than they should? And occasionally lose to inferior teams because they wouldn’t let their playmakers loose?
Man, that was awesome.
In that scenario, a team in the East had to simply hang with Florida and beat them in the waning seconds then either a.) beat Mark Richt’s Georgia, or b.) capitalize on the one dumb loss Mark Richt Georgia teams would always experience. Yes, the East champ would still get pulverized by the West champ in Atlanta, but still....those were simpler days.
Dan Mullen was hired in 2018 and continued the Gators’ pattern of excellent/terrible head coaching hires. Steve Spurrier? National Champion! Ron Zook? How about you take the Illinois job instead! Urban Meyer? National Champion! Will Muschamp? Lost to an FCS team that didn’t complete a pass! Mullen has two seasons and 21 wins to his name...but none of those are over Georgia.
Mullen has continued the excellent recruiting and gotten the Gators back to respectability thanks to much better offensive minds paired with an as-always-nasty defense. If they can finally get over the Georgia hump in Jacksonville they will be seriously contending for Playoff berths.
Just what the SEC East needed, huh? Another sleepy power that’s waking up and hitting its potential.
Here’s what Florida did in 2019:
Two losses by a combined 21 points to the SEC Championship participants, one of which went on to win the National Championship easily. Not so bad! They had some close calls against Kentucky, Auburn, and South Carolina, yes, but overall the Gators were almost back to the halcyon ‘90s days with Spurrier calling the run-and-shoot and winging the ball all over the field while sprinting past teams in a race to 40 points. It was fun...even when your team was on the brunt end of the performance.
Urban Meyer met Mullen at Notre Dame when the former was a a wide receivers coach and the latter was a mere graduate assistant. When Meyer got the Bowling Green gig, he tabbed Mullen as his quarterbacks coach which started a symbiotic relationship that lasted for eight years. Mullen coached Meyer’s quarterbacks from Bowling Green to Utah and Florida, calling offenses once they reached Gainesville. He was around when the Falcons upset Mizzou in 2001, had a hand in the undefeated Utes season with Alex Smith, and coached Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin et al with their two national championships. In other words, he had a front row seat to college football coaching excellence and knows how to get programs to maximum achievement. It took him a little while in Starkville, but he eventually got Mississippi State rolling, getting them a #1 spot in the first College Football Playoff rankings while regularly churning out bowl seasons at one of the tougher P5 jobs in the country. He has the resume, experience, and style of play necessary to find success in Gainesville, and as long as he beats Georgia a few times, should be able to see a long career with the Gators.
Billy Gonzales - Co-Offensive Coordinator
John Hevesy - Co-Offensive Coordinator: Gonzales joined Mullen in Starkville in 2013 and Hevesy was part of the Mullen team since 2009, but both were promoted to co-coordinators for the Bulldog offense in 2014 and have held those titles for Mullen ever since. Together this duo has never fielded an offense worse than 40th and have deployed offenses ranked in the SP+ Top 20 four times in their six year partnership. Essentially, these guys are really good at working in the Mullen scheme that (usually) features a run-heavy offense that is super effective in the RPO game.
Todd Grantham - Defensive Coordinator: Grantham is bombastic and emotional, both on and off the field, but he will always field an exciting defense that creates explosions, both good and bad. He might be easily manipulated by offenses that he finds frustrating and reliably calls a few ill-timed blitzes multiple times per game, but he always has the athletes to cause maximum havoc, and usually implodes offensive drives. It’s a great defense to pair with the Mullen offensive scheme, and as long as he’s not trying to pick fights with other coaches, he’ll be in Gainesville for the foreseeable future.
Greg Knox - Special Teams Coordinator
Larry Scott - Tight Ends
David Turner - Defensive Line
Christian Robinson - Linebackers
Torrian Gray - Cornerbacks
Ron English - Safeties
You know how I mentioned earlier that Gonzales and Hevesy like to utilize the run game to open up safe play-action passes? Yeah...not last year. The Gators were the 11th-best SP+ offense in the country last year despite the fact that they had the 76th-best rushing attack bogging them down. What was the secret? Kyle freakin’ Trask: the 2-star Texan started the season backing up Feleipe Franks, but once Franks was lost for the season against Kentucky, Trask stepped in and took off. Outside of a clunker against Auburn, Trask and the Gator offense hit the 72nd percentile or higher in every game, thrice eclipsing the 85th percentile. Thanks to the 8th-best passing success rate in the country — and the 8th best completion percentage as well — the Gators were able to efficiently move down the field with quick passes to elite athletes and occasionally use the run game for big explosive plays on the ground (23rd in rushing explosiveness, 100th in efficiency). The Gators return 63% of last year’s production - good for 67th in the country - and most of that attrition is from the receiving corps. Does that mean that a new crop of young receivers pick up where the predecessors left off? Or do the Gators get back to the run-oriented offense of earlier Mullen offenses?
Quarterback - Kyle Trask - Redshirt Senior
I’m always in favor of talented quarterbacks transferring to a place where they can play, but damned if Kyle Trask’s story isn’t a vote for sticking around. He arrived in Gainesville with minimum fanfare and saw no action until his third year on the team, tossing 22 passes on the season. But he answered the call once Franks went down and proceeded to complete nearly 67% of his passes at 7.4 yards per completion. For reference, that’s a couple percentage points better than Drew Lock’s senior campaign at Mizzou. Trask isn’t super mobile, but does a decent job of avoiding sacks and making the correct quick read. How a new receiving corps affects his accuracy or yards per attempt is yet to be seen but he was incredibly effective in the Mullen offense and should be just as effective this year.
Running Back - Dameon Pierce - Junior
The good news is that the Gators return three of 2019’s four running backs! The bad news is that those four combined for 1,091 yards/11 touchdowns and 676 yards/6 TDs of that walked out the door when Lamical Perine graduated. So that leaves Dameon Pierce and his 305 yards rushing as the leading returning rusher. Pierce was absolutely explosive with his opportunities, gaining a whopping 9.6 additional yards per rush once the line got him five yards down the field. Unfortunately, he rarely got five yards past the line (35.2%) and had the second worst success rate on the team (38.9%). But that was a similar story for the Gator ground game in general, which could improve with some more experience across the backfield. There are no reinforcements coming in from the 2020 recruiting class so they’re stuck with what they have for now. Clearly, the Gators did fine without an efficient ground game last year but they might need one to buoy the lack of the experience in the receiving corps.
Tight End - Kyle Pitts - Junior
Pitts is the leading returning receiver, both because he had the most targets on the team last year and because only three of 2019’s top eight receivers return. Pitts, Trevon Grimes, and the young Jacob Copeland are all that are left from the nation’s 11th best passing offense; they will be relied on heavily until new faces break in. The Gators will get signee-via-JUCO Diwun Black back on campus this fall and will be joined by fellow blue-chippers Xzavier Henderson, Leonard Manuel, and Ja’Quavion Fraziars. Any and all of these guys will have plenty of opportunities to break into the starting rotation, but youth is tough to rely on in the passing game.
There’s “Good Grantham” and “Bad Grantham” and, safe to say, the Gators’ defense last year operated on Good Grantham. Florida absolutely throttled opposing run games, limited success rates and removed any chance of efficiency on the ground. They were prone to giving up the occasional explosive play but there was very little chance an offense could consistently move the ball in that manner. The only way to get back the Gator D was through the air. While they were 10th in stopping explosive pass plays, they would allow teams to dink and dunk through the air, completing 60% of the passes against the secondary. The Gators were 8th in the country in getting sacks, but if the pass rush didn’t connect, the ball was being caught for a first down. Stopping run games, dominating in passing downs, forcing short passes and only allowing explosive runs...the Gator defense made offenses do the things that college offenses aren’t very good at doing and it absolutely paid off in 2019. And with 67% of last year’s production returning — good enough for 55th in the nation — you can expect a lot of the same tactics to be implemented. Here’s hoping we end up with a “Bad Grantham” year...
Defensive Line - Kyree Campbell - Senior
Classic 3-4 defensive line: few tackles, maximum block absorption and disruption. Campbell lead the line with 26.5 tackles but chipped in five tackles for loss and 5.5 run stuffs. Grantham wants his line to occupy blockers so his exotic blitzes can hit home, and the Gator line was excellent at doing so last year. Out of a six-man rotation, three return so there shouldn’t be a huge drop off.
Linebacker - Ventrell Miller - Redshirt Junior
Ventrell Miller was an effective tackler from his inside linebacker spot, but mostly was around to clean up any messes that Jonathan Greenard didn’t get. Greenard was responsible for 15.5 TFLs, 18.5 run stuffs, and an incredible 23.5 havoc plays...good thing he’s gone, huh? Miller, James Houston, and Jeremiah Moon are poised for big break throughs in the Grantham-scheme while 5-star Derek Wingo also enters the fray this year. Like any good 3-4 linebacking corps, these guys are responsible for most of the plays being made. While the depth might be a little thinner this year, the talent is still there.
Defensive Back - Shawn Davis - Senior
A passing defense that ranked 50th last year returns 8 of 9 starters this year... so yeah, expect them to be quite a bit better. Shawn Davis is the leading returning tackler on the team and they bring in five blue-chip recruits in the secondary. Basically, there’s a lot of experience and a lot of talent and the Gators should be much better against the pass. That would shore up their biggest weakness from last year, and if the run defense stays as stout as it was last year...
So what does it all mean?
Again....this schedule? Probably not going to stick. But it’s what we have for now.
Removing Eastern Washington, South Alabama, and New Mexico State means that Missouri is projected as the easiest opponent on the Gators’ schedule. Part of that is - yes - Missouri will be young and probably pretty bad, but also Florida has a killer schedule, drawing LSU and Ole Miss from the West and (probably) playing Florida State. Even projected at 7th, the Gators have 3 toss-up games that could easily go against them.
As for Missouri...well, the Tigers have beaten them in The Swamp twice, but barring some massive run of injuries or Covid cases, I can’t see Missouri beating this Florida squad at full health. This is another chance to see who on the roster plays hard and is making plays against elite competition. Learn lessons, get experience, work at beating them in Columbia in 2021.