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Gators notebook: Pitts display trending at Oxford

By Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida tight end Kyle Pitts runs past Mississippi linebacker Jacquez Jones during the second half Saturday in Oxford, Miss.

Kyle Pitts continued to stake his claim Saturday as one of the top tight ends in Division I football. 

The junior hauled in eight passes for 170 yards and four touchdowns in UF’s 51-35 win at Ole Miss, including a 71-yard catch-and-run to put Florida in front 35-14 just at the second half commenced. The Kyle-to-Kyle connection as they call it was alive and well in Oxford, much to the joy of the Florida faithful and coach Dan Mullen.

“He’s a special player. One of things you always try to do is create match-ups. You saw some of the match-ups we were able to create with him today. He’s that match-up problem as a tight end. That’s what you like. You get (line) 'backers matched up on him; that’s a problem for them in the pass game. You put DBs on him in the run game, he’s a physical blocker at the point of attack. That’s what you want in a tight end position,” Mullen said. “We’ve been seeing it in training camp. I know he’s got a chip on his shoulder and wanted to go show what he could be this year and has really, to me, taken a step forward as a complete tight end for what we want.”

Shawn Davis tossed early

Florida safety Shawn Davis made his impact felt on Ole Miss’ first drive –– but it wasn’t a positive one. 

Davis, wearing No. 6 after spending his first seasons in No. 31, was whistled for targeting on an incomplete pass from Matt Corral to Dontario Drummond at Florida’s 41-yard-line. 

Although there was some debate as to whether or not Davis committed targeting, the play was confirmed on the field by the officiating crew, leading to Davis’ ejection.  

Gators freshman Rashad Torrence II subsequently took Davis’ place in Florida’s defensive backfield. 

The red-hat official –– who alerts the officiating crew when a commercial break concludes –– was ignored, and Ole Miss resumed playing while the commercial break was still underway. 

Any viewers at home thinking the Rebels would come away with points would be in for a pleasant surprise, as Brenton Cox Jr. would sack Corral on 4th-and-3 to force a turnover of downs. 

Dexter makes positive 1st quarter impact

Gervon Dexter’s first quarter was one he likely won’t soon forget. 

The true freshman out of Lake Wales earned significant playing time against Ole Miss with starting defensive tackle Kyree Campbell unavailable for the season-opener, and it didn’t take long for the 6-foot-6, 308-pounder to make his presence felt. 

On the Rebels’ first drive, Gervon brought down running back Jerrion Ealy for a two-yard loss, as Ole Miss was entering UF territory.

In the context of things –– a true freshman making a big play early in his first game, without a traditional offseason, no less –– it was already impressive, but Dexter, a former five-star prospect, was just getting started in his first period of collegiate action.

With the game tied at 7-7, and the Rebels looking to pull ahead for the first time today, Matt Corral looked to put points on the scoreboard against a team to which he was formerly committed. 

But Dexter would make the heads-up interception after Brenton Cox swatted the pass at the line of scrimmage, and the Gators would go up 14-7 after Kadarius Toney’s 50-yard rush set up Kyle Trask’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Trevon Grimes.

A 14-point swing that may not have happened if it weren’t for Dexter’s hands and awareness. His heads-up play would stand as Florida’s lone interception of the afternoon. 

McPherson backs up Mullen praise

Florida kicker Evan McPherson said he nailed a 67-yard field goal in practice, and his coach, Dan Mullen, backed up McPherson’s self-praise by saying he thought his kicker was the best in the nation at his position. 

Throughout the offseason, McPherson could regularly hit kicks of 65 yards or more –– but that wasn’t necessarily his focus. 

“I don’t really attempt them that often,” McPherson said Tuesday.  “I just kind of always focus on the ones that are realistic.” 

McPherson, a member of the Lou Groza award watch list, added to the belief he can hit kicks from a significant distance Saturday by nailing a 55-yard field goal attempt with 9:30 remaining in the third quarter to give the Gators a 38-21 advantage over Ole Miss. 

He would later add field goals of 37 and 23 yards to help UF pad its lead. 

“Evan, obviously we have a lot of trust in him. I think he knows that, a great weapon. You know, it does change us. That’s the old goal, you look at how things change, you have a third-and-long, Kyle Trask, a veteran quarterback’s not afraid to check the ball down,” Mullen said. “We only get 6 yards, but we roll out a 55-yard vehicle. And it will change how people have to play you defensively a little bit.” 

McPherson has converted more than 90 percent of his field goal attempts, which currently stands as the highest field-goal percentage in Florida history.

Cox and Shorter impress in debuts

After much anticipation, two former five-star prospects –– defensive end Brenton Cox Jr. and wide receiver Justin Shorter –– made their debuts for the Gators. Cox finished the game with eight tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and a sack, while Shorter hauled in two receptions on three targets for eight yards. 

Florida place kicker Evan McPherson takes a knee before kickoff Saturday against Mississippi in Oxford, Miss.
First-year Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin, left, and Florida coach Dan Mullen chat at midfield Saturday before their game Saturday in Oxford.