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Know Thy Enemy: The Florida Gators

Mississippi State Bulldogs v Florida Gators Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Georgia will make its annual trip to Jacksonville to face the Gators a week later this year. We don’t know what the composition of the crowd in TIAA Bank Stadium will be when the game kicks off in its usual time slot, but we do know there will be plenty of jorts at the Jacksonville Landing and that it will feel weird to be a week removed from Halloween.

The Gator File

Location: Gainesville, Florida

Home Stadium: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was built in 1930 and holds 88,548 people. It stayed less than full until the early 1990’s, when Steve Spurrier fielded the first championship teams in Florida history and rebranded the place as “The Swamp.” According to TripAdvisor, the home fans really love it.

The stadium has seen many great moments and games. Those include the time embattled UF quarterback Felipe Franks shushed his own fans after scoring a touchdown, and the 2013 game against Georgia Southern.

Representative Alumnus: Florida has many famous alumni. The one that best represents Florida as a state, institution and football program is Instagram personality Dan Blizerian. Blizerian is basically famous for being famous. He appeared out of nowhere one day, and started doing outrageous things on social media. Those things include but are not limited to objectifying women who he pays to hangout with him, living in a really large and terribly decorated home, owning exotic pets, owning weapons that aren’t legal in most states, having a cartoonishly built body that was built by steroids, never letting anyone hear him talk because he knows he’s an idiot and driving around on jet-powered watercraft.

Coach: The Gators are lead by head coach Dan Mullen, who is entering his third year on the job after nine years at Mississippi State. It is important to note that Mullen, in eleven years as a SEC head coach has won exactly zero division or conference titles. During that time he has compiled a .224 winning percentage against the Top 25. Mullen has created a lot of high expectations in Gainesville despite being unable to recruit at an elite level, and having mishaps like playing the first couple drives with the wrong wristbands in his team’s biggest game of the season.

Expectations: Gator fans are foaming at the mouth for 2020 to start. After three straight defeats to Georgia, many Florida fans and media members think that this is the year the Gators will finally get over the Georgia hump. Anything short of a SEC Eastern Division championship will be a disappointment for the Gators.

2019 Recruiting: Despite being in talent-rich Florida, the Gators signed a good, but not great class, which has been par for the course for Mullen ever since he came on board. The class ranked #9 nationally, and #5 in the SEC, but Mullen struggled to keep priority in-state targets at home, with Georgia, Tennessee, Clemson and Alabama all stealing players out of the Sunshine State that Mullen desperately needs if he wants to build the Gators into a true contender. The headliners of the class were DT Gervin Dexter, WR Xzavier Henderson and OLB Derek Wingo. All three should see playing time in 2020.

Offensive Outlook: The Gators come into 2020 with tons of hype. A lot of that centers around quarterback Kyle Trask, who lead the Gators to an 11-2 record in 2019 following the loss of Felipe Franks for the season in the second game of the year against Kentucky. Trask completed 67% of his passes for 2,941 yards and 25 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions. Nobody else in the media seems to have noticed, but it might be a bit of a problem that Dan Mullen started the always unpredictable Franks over Trask for 15 games.

Trask stepped into a team full of seniors, and played a point guard type of role. While his numbers were solid, in most games they played Florida relied on superior skill talent to make Trask’s life easier. Back are stud tight-end Kyle Pitts and young receivers Trevon Grimes, Jacob Copeland and Kadarius Toney. Gone from the Florida receiving corps are Josh Hammond, Van Jefferson, Tyrie Cleveland and Freddie Swain. All four of them are on NFL rosters right now. Trask lost four of his top six receivers from 2019, who accounted for 139 receptions and almost 1,900 yards through the air. I’m not saying that 2020 Kyle Trask is 2019 Jake Fromm, but I’m not not saying it either.

Also gone from the 2019 squad is starting running back La’Mical Perine. Perine was a good back with a bad offensive line and chipped in 676 yards on the ground. Junior Dameon Pierce pitched in 305 yards on the ground last season, and will share carries with Miami transfer Lorenzo Lingard.

The Gators went 11-2 last year despite massive run blocking issues. They passed all the time, and everyone knew they were going to. Despite the predictability, they were able to produce points against most opponents. Against a team with elite defensive backs like Georgia, they struggled, only putting up 17 points. With a ton of receiving talent gone, Florida will likely need to develop a legitimate running attack to beat the better teams on their schedule.

Florida replaced four starters on the offensive line last year, and never settled on an effective rotation as the unit was an issue throughout the year. In 2020 the Gators return sometime starters Josh Delance, Brett Heggie and Stone Forsythe on the line. Heggie and Forsythe are likely to start somewhere, but after a rough 2020 Delance is likely to be a second-team player provided some younger talent steps up and out preforms him. If he isn’t then the Gators will be in trouble. The whole line is a question mark for Florida, and they could be relying on some true freshman and redshirt freshman to play significant minutes. If they gel, Florida could be a very good team. Unfortunately for the Gators, Mullen has been unable to stack the type of talent along the line of scrimmage that teams like Alabama, Georgia and LSU have.

Defensive Outlook: Florida was hit hard by graduation and the NFL Draft throughout their defense, and that includes the defensive line. The Gators one true game changer along the defensive line the past couple of seasons was Jabari Zuniga. Zuniga is gone as are a lot of other contributors who played big snaps in the past. Florida will need freshman Gervin Dexter to be a big time contributor and for some players who haven’t shown much promise in the last couple of season to step up big time.

In the linebacking corps Florida loses stud linebackers Jonathan Greenard and David Reese II. They return solid contributor Ventrell Miller and former Georgia third-stringer Brenton Cox Jr. Florida will have plenty of guys to defend the run, but returning backer Amari Burney is the only Gator linebacker with the speed and instincts to cover the pass. That will be a problem for Florida in 2020.

In the secondary, Florida returns excellent cornerbacks in Kaiir Elam, Trey Dean III and Marco WIlson. This unit is probably the best on the team, and they will need to be to cover for the inexperienced linebacking corps.

Season Prediction: Florida enthusiasts in 2020 have fallen victim to the same thinking error that all of those who picked Jim Donnan’s Bulldogs to dethrone Spurrier’s Florida teams did in the late-90’s and early-2000’s. Western Narratives have taught us to expect the champ to be dethroned by the challenger, but that doesn’t often happen.

Besides Kyle Trask and some members of the secondary, Florida has lost the biggest contributors from the 2020 team. They will struggle in the front seven, and the offense will probably have some growing pains due to the offensive line. Trask will likely struggle at time to create the production that he did in 2019. Like every Dan Mullen team ever, they will beat the teams they have better talent than, and lose to the ones that they don’t.

Record: 7-3

Georgia vs Florida Game Prediction: 3, 10, 7, 7, 7, 20, 6, 3. 3, 17, 17 - That’s how many points Dan Mullen’s teams have scored against Kirby Smart defenses in the eleven meetings they’ve had since he became a head coach.

Should we expect a Florida offense with less talent to produce a better output against a Georgia defense that returns nine starters from the nation’s #1 defense in 2019? No.

Georgia’s offense in 2019 was about as bad as a blue blood with elite talent has ever produced. I can promise you 2020’s will be better.


Georgia 38 - Florida 14