Twenty one games have led to this.
Dan Mullen, sitting at an impressive 17-4 as Florida’s head football coach, has the well-rounded Gators in sole possession of first place in the SEC’s Eastern Division, as an impending match-up with Georgia marks another chance to make or break UF’s strong 2019 campaign.
This isn’t anything new for Florida fans; Jim McElwain’s first two seasons at Florida led to trips to Atlanta, although the result was anything but the desired outcome.
Yet improvements on the offensive side of the ball have led to optimism that the Gators are capable of once again representing the East, with presumably much of the credit going to Mullen and the offense’s ability to generate “explosive” plays consistently.
En route to Kyle Trask becoming the first UF quarterback since Tim Tebow to toss four touchdown passes in a road game, the Gators recorded their seventh play of 60 yards or more when Dameon Pierce sprinted 75 yards into the Gamecocks end zone. Considering just Oklahoma State and Colorado State have more such plays with eight and nine, respectively, it’s another sign Mullen has UF’s offense consistently in position to strike.
And it’s part of the reason redshirt junior quarterback Kyle Trask has been able to step in for the injured Feleipe Franks and prevent Florida’s offense from missing a beat.
“We have a bunch of playmakers on this team,” said Trask, “and a lot of the people that are making these plays, they’ve been here since last year and they’ve had a whole year under their belt and they’re dangerous in the open field. So when they get the opportunity, they’re taking advantage of it.”
It’s a sentiment in which Trask, excelling in his first starting role in seven years, can relate. He can also identify with the anxiety and anticipation that can come with preparing to return from a significant injury, as he did prior to spring camp after suffering a broken foot last season. Meaning Trask knows how wide receiver Kadarius Toney, UF’s most explosive playmaker on offense, has felt watching Florida’s offense excel in his absence.
On the mend from a collarbone injury suffered against UT-Martin in September, Toney practiced Wednesday without a sling in preparation for returning prior to UF’s match-up with the Dawgs. Considering his 66-yard touchdown in the season opener against Miami helped set the stage for Florida’s current run of big plays, the Gators are anticipating his imminent return to action.
“He’s definitely a dangerous weapon. We’ve missed him and his playmaking abilities,” Trask said. “It’ll be good to have him back. He’s very explosive, he’s a playmaker. He’s just got the ‘it’ factor, and he’s going to move the ball downfield for you.”
With Toney sidelined, the Gators have seen sophomore tight end Kyle Pitts emerge as a primary cog in the passing game, as his 35 receptions and 391 receiving yards lead the team in both categories through eight games this season. But for an offense consistently in search of the next big play, there’s no such thing as having too many weapons — especially with the most significant game of the season looming.
For the Gators to excel against a Georgia defense ranked No. 2 in the conference in passing defense, they’ll likely need all hands on deck.
“They’re a very solid defense, they’ve got playmakers all around,” Trask said of Georgia. “I’m sure Coach Mullen will put together a great game-plan for them.”