Kyle Trask, Florida Gators survive a 51-35 shootout over Ole Miss in Oxford
Florida coach Dan Mullen was concerned about sloppy play coming into the opener. One thing he probably wasn't worried about was a potential offensive shootout, given the expectations, and tradition, of the UF defense. But that's what he and the Gators got at Ole Miss on Saturday.
Fortunately for the Gators, they had more offensive firepower than Lane Kiffin's Rebels, holding on for a 51-35 win that raises all kind of questions about the Florida defense.
"Great win for us, coming out here," Mullen said. "Obviously, coming on the road, always tough to play on the road in the SEC. Now this game's in the books, we have a lot of things we have to clean up. We have a lot of things we have to get better at from Week 1 to Week 2. But we'll get a lot better in the coming weeks on both sides of the ball, cleaning some things up. But a great day for us and a great win."
The Gators were led by senior quarterback Kyle Trask, who had a Heisman Trophy-type performance, throwing for six touchdown passes and 416 yards. Tight end Kyle Pitts also had a stiff-armed trophy kind of day, catching four touchdown passes as the Gators rolled up the most total yards — 642 — in school history in an SEC game.
“I just feel like we had a great game plan," Trask said. "We had answers for every look they were showing us. And we had some great checks that we executed well. Overall, it’s just a great team game, everybody executed from start to finish.”
Here are five takeaways from Saturday's game:
Trask has improved his game in Year 2 as Mullen's starting quarterback
Trask spent much of his offseason and summer losing weight and working on his footwork and accuracy. The work he's put in showed up Saturday. Trask was nearly flawless in the first half, throwing for 177 yards and four touchdowns. It was probably the best quarter he's had since he's been at Florida.
Not only did Trask have the offense moving up and down the field, especially in the second quarter, almost every one of his pass attempts was right on target. His receivers definitely made his job a little bit easier, the way they were getting separation in a questionable Ole Miss secondary.
Trask also had the luxury of time, getting sound protection from the offensive front.
Heading into the season, many were wondering how much progress Trask would show in his second season as the starter. It appears it is considerable.
"He just did a good job of managing the whole offense and managing the game," Mullen said. "Getting us into the right plays, all the adjustments we made on the sideline, he did a great job getting to those adjustments and creating, finding the mismatches all over the field. I think he did a really good job of that all day."
Pitts is a match-up problem for opposing defenses
We knew this coming into the season, but he sort of took it to another level in Saturday's game. Despite getting double-teamed much of the time, Pitts consistently found ways to get open and make big plays and catch touchdown passes.
He ended the game with eight receptions for 170 yards and four touchdowns.
“He can do a lot of things," Trask said of Pitts. "He's a match-up nightmare for defenses. He's too big for corners and too fast for linebackers, so he gives defenses a lot of trouble.”
In UF's touchdown drive in the closing minutes of the first half, he ended it with a 16-yard TD reception. In the two plays before that, he had receptions of 22 and 19 yards, setting himself up for the score.
Then, on the second offensive play of the second half, Pitts streaked behind the Ole Miss secondary and caught a 71-yard touchdown pass. After the catch, he set himself free with a pulverizing stiff arm.
It didn't end there, either. On a 50-50 ball in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, Pitts won the battle for a 16-yard TD that clinched the victory, giving the Gators a 51-29 lead with 5:14 to play.
"He’s a special player," Mullen said. "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."
The Gators are very vulnerable on defense
They certainly are, especially playing without four starters, including safety Shawn Davis, who was ejected early in the first quarter for a targeting foul. With Davis out, the Gators had to turn to true freshman Rashad Torrence.
For most of the rest of the game, the secondary gave up all kinds of chunk plays that allowed the Rebels to stay within striking distance.
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral threw for 395 yards and three touchdowns, wide receiver Elijah Moore caught 10 passes for 227 yards and the Rebels rolled up 613 yards of total offense.
"We've got to get a lot better (on defense)," Mullen said. "We were down some guys defensively today, hopefully we get some guys back for next week.
"We have to be better back there (in the secondary). Got to get a little more pressure on the quarterback."
The most alarming moment for defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's group came right after Trask threw a 71-yard TD pass to Pitts on the second play of the second half to give the Gators a 35-14 lead.
That lead seemed comfortable for all of about two minutes.
Ole Miss answered immediately, driving 75 yards in two plays, the first coming on a 57-yard Corral completion, to quickly answer the Florida quick strike. The Rebels had another long, two-play scoring drive later in the game.
McPherson has a cannon
Earlier in the week, Mullen said he thought Evan McPherson was the best field-goal kicker in college football, then pointing out that he's made a 67-yarder in practice.
Mullen allowed McPherson to show off his strong leg Saturday, sending him in for a 55-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter. McPherson hit it long and deep — and right down the middle for three points. It might have been good from 65 yards.
“(His range) puts you into scoring range a lot sooner," Mullen said.
Some five-star talent up front
The Gators' two five-star recruits on the defensive line — Georgia transfer Brenton Cox and true freshman tackle Gervon Dexter — both had successful debuts Saturday. In fact, they teamed up to create a big turnover in the first half. Cox, coming in hard from the edge, batted a pass that fell into the arms of Dexter for an interception that killed an Ole Miss scoring opportunity.
Both also had tackles for a loss. UF fans have been waiting to see both — and both flashed the kind of promise they have.
Who: South Carolina at No. 6 Florida
When: 12 p.m. Oct. 3
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, 98.1-FM, AM-850