Gators in the midst of the SEC grind
Who: No. 3 Florida (2-0) at No. 20 Texas A&M (1-1)
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Had COVID-19 not come along and turned 2020 sideways — or upside down or inside out or however you want to describe it — Florida’s third game of the football season would have been a nice, relaxing, potential romp in The Swamp against non-conference foe South Alabama.
Now, instead, the Gators have had to pack their bags and head to far off College Station, Texas, to play one of the top programs in the SEC West against a head coach that has had their number.
That’s just the way it is now with the revamped conference-only schedule.
There are no breaks, there are no more stat-building games against lesser non-conference opponents.
For the Gators, Eastern Washington, South Alabama and New Mexico State have been replaced by Texas A&M and Arkansas on the new 10-game SEC-only schedule.
For UF, for all 14 league schools, there is no relief from the stress and strain of SEC play other than that one open date.
"Yeah, it's definitely challenging, but it's really unique,” UF offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said. “It's the same circumstance for everyone. So every week in this league, it's extremely tough, you’ve got to be ready to play your best every single week.
“Not just so much of the physical grind — which obviously takes a physical toll, these games are very physical for players — but it's a mental grind as well. Then you just add playing all SEC games, COVID-19, everything else that's going on. You’ve got to be mentally and physically tough to survive that grind."
After taking down Ole Miss and South Carolina in the first two games of the season, the grind becomes a little more amped up this week with the long road trip against a Texas A&M team that has elite SEC talent across the board, a senior quarterback (Kellen Mond) who has started three seasons and a head coach (Jimbo Fisher) who won seven of eight games against the Gators when he was at Florida State.
South Alabama the Aggies are not.
“Nothing against South Alabama, but Texas A&M is probably a little bit better. I think it’s going to be a challenge,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “Obviously, when you look at playing the all-SEC schedule it’s a lot of fun. It makes every game critical.
“When you’re playing in the best conference in college football — not even really close — and you’ve got to play 10 conference games and everybody is playing seven or eight, it certainly is going to lead to a challenging year. But if you’re a competitor — I’m a competitor and our guys are competitors — you look forward to the challenge. Our guys are really excited about it, having the opportunity to play an all-SEC schedule and every week being a big-time game.”
The Gators have played in College Station only once, and that was back in 2012, so this is going to be a new experience for the players. For Mullen, this will be nothing new because his Mississippi State teams played at A&M every other year.
The Mullen vs. Fisher match-up will be new, though. This will be the first time they’ve coached against each other.
“I’ve talked to him a little bit,” Mullen said of Fisher. “I know him from the SEC meetings, know him as a head coach, talking that way. I’ve never spent a significant amount of time with him.
“I always thought he does a great job, obviously a great offensive coach, puts his guys in a good position to make plays, and is innovative. He understands how to utilize the personnel he has to build the offense around the personnel. He has the ability to kind of play to the strengths of his players.”
Fisher commends Mullen for the job he’s doing at Florida.
“They’ve done an excellent job,” Fisher said. “They’re in really good shape. They’re progressing very well. The big thing is they’re playing really well.
“Offensively, they’re very dynamic. (Kyle) Pitts, (Kadarius) Toney and (Kyle) Trask, those guys are doing a tremendous job. (Trevon) Grimes, (Justin) Shorter … all of them.
"Defensively, they bring pressure, they can rush. They’re athletic. They cover. They’re very multiple in their sets.
“They’re good in all phases of the game. It’s going to be a huge challenge, but that’s what you get when you’re in the SEC.”
QUARTERBACK: No. 11 Kyle Trask (R-Sr.), No. 5 Emory Jones (R-So.), No. 2 Anthony Richardson (Fr.)
RUNNING BACK: No. 20 Malik Davis (R-Jr.) -OR- No. 27 Dameon Piece (Jr.), No. 6 Nay-Quan Wright (R-Fr.)
WIDE RECEIVER (X): No. 8 Trevon Grimes (Sr.), No. 3 Xzavier Henderson (Fr.)
WIDE RECEIVER (Y): No. 1 Kadarius Toney (Sr.), No. 14 Trent Whittemore (R-Fr.)
WIDE RECEIVER (Z): No. 15 Jacob Copeland (R-So.), No. 89 Justin Shorter (R-So.)
TIGHT END: No. 84 Kyle Pitts (Jr.), No. 88 Kemore Gamble (R-Jr.) -OR- No. 9 Keon Zipperer (So.)
LEFT TACKLE: No. 72 Stone Forsythe (R-Sr.), No. 75 T.J. Moore (R-Jr.)
LEFT GUARD: No. 76 Richard Gouraige (R-So.), No. 62 Griffin McDowell (R-So.)
CENTER: No. 61 Brett Hegge (R-Sr.), No. 65 Kingsley Eguakaun (R-Jr.)
RIGHT GUARD: No. 51 Stewart Reese (R-Sr.), No. 78 Josh Braun (Fr.)
RIGHT TACKLE: No. 56 Jean Delance (R-Sr.), No. 70 Michael Tarquin (R-Fr.)
DEFENSIVE TACKLE: No. 17 Zachary Carter (R-Jr.), No. 9 Gervon Dexter (Fr.)
NOSE TACKLE: No. 56 Tedarrell Slaton (Sr.), No. 55 Kyree Campbell (Sr.), -OR- No. 91 Marlon Dunlap Jr. (R-Sr.)
DEFENSIVE END: No. 1 Brenton Cox Jr. (R-So.), No. 10 Andrew Chatfield (R-So.)
BUCK: No. 7 Jeremiah Moon (R-Sr.), -OR- No. 8 Khris Bogle (So.), No. 4 David Reese (R-So.)
MIDDLE LINEBACKER: No. 51 Ventrell Miller (R-Jr.), No. 41 James Houston IV (R-Jr.)
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER: No. 30 Amari Burney (Jr.), No. 11 Mohamoud Diabate (So.)
CORNERBACK: No. 23 Jaydon Hill (So.), No. 12 C.J. McWilliams (R-Sr.)
STAR: No. 3 Marco Wilson (R-Jr.), No. 2 Brad Stewart (Sr.)
CORNERBACK: No. 5 Kaiir Elam (So.), No. 25 Chester Kimbrough (So.)
FREE SAFETY: No. 6 Shawn Davis (Sr.), No. 22 Rashad Torrence II (Fr.)
STRONG SAFETY: No. 13 Donovan Stiner (Sr.), No. 0 Trey Dean III (Jr.)
KICKER: No. 19 Evan McPherson (Jr.), No. 71 Chris Howard (R-Jr.)
PUNTER: No. 18 Jacob Finn (R-Fr.), No. 26 Jeremy Crawshaw (Fr.)
LONG SNAPPER: No. 48 Brett DioGuardi (R-Sr.), -OR- No. 40 Marco Ortiz (R-So.)
HOLDER: No. 18 Jacob Finn (R-Fr.), No. 26 Jeremy Crawshaw (Fr.)
KICK RETURNER: No. 1 Kadarius Toney (Sr.), No. 15 Jacob Copeland (R-So.)
PUNT RETURNER: No. 1 Kadarius Toney (Sr.), No. 15 Jacob Copeland (R-So.)
WR: No. 18 Kam Brown FR or No.2 Chase Lane FR, No. 7 Muhsin Muhammad III FR, No.3 Devin Price FR
LT: No. 65 Dan Moore SR, No. 76 Chris Morris FR
LG: No. 55 Kenyon Green SO, No.70 Josh Bankhead FR
C: No. 77 Ryan McCollum SR, No. 75 Luke Matthews SO, No.52 Smart Chibuzo FR
RG: No.73 Jared Hocker SR, No.64 Layden Robinson FR, No.74 Akinola Ogunbiyi FR
RT: No.54 Carson Green SR, No.53 Blake Trainor FR
TE: No.85 Jalen Wydermyer SO, Ryan Renick, or No. 42 Max Wright SO, or No.8 Connor Blumrick JR
WR: No. 5 Jalen Preston SO, No. 1 Demond Demas FR
WR: No. 81 Caleb Chapman SO, No. 9 Hezekiah Jones JR, No. 83 Kenyon Jackson FR, No. 4 Dylan Wright FR
QB: No. 11 Kellen Mond SR, No. 10 Zach Calzada FR, No.13 Haynes King FR
FB: No. 43 Cagan Baldree SR
RB: No. 28 Isaiah Spiller SO, No. 0 Ainias Smith SO, No. 6 Devon Achane FR, No. 24 Earnest Crownover JR, No. 34 Darvon Hubbard FR, No. 25 Deondre Jackson FR
DE: No. 3 Tyree Johnson JR, No. 8 DeMarvin Leal SO, No. 15 Jeremiah Martin JR, No. 41 RJ Orebo FR, No.10 Fadil Diggs FR, No. 18 Donell Harris FR
DT: No. 92 Jayden Peevy SR, No. 6 Derick Hunter FR, or No. 34 Isaiah Raikes FR
DT: No. 5 Bobby Brown JR, No. 35 McKinnley Jackson FR, No. 97 Dallas Walker FR
DE: Micheal Clemons, No. 8 DeMarvin Leal SO, No. 46 Braedon Mowry FR
WLB: No. 33 Aaron Hansford SR, No. 45 Edgerrin Cooper FR, No. 29 Antonio Doyle FR, or No. 20 Ikenna Okeke SR
MLB: No. 1 Buddy Johnson SR, No. 12 Braden White SR, No. 24 Chris Russell SO, No. 32 Andre White SO, No. 23 Tarian Lee FR
CB: No. 0 Myles Jones SR, No. 16 Brian George JR
CB: No. 17 Jaylon Jones FR, No. 11 Travon Fuller SR
SF: No. 9 Leon O'Neal JR, No. 14 Keldrick Carper SR, No. 27 Antonio Johnson FR
SF: No. 26 Demani Richardson SO, No. 13 Brian Williams SO
NICK: No. 4 Erick Young SO, No. 7 Devin Morris JR, No. 21 Joshuah Moten FR
K: No. 47 Seth Small JR, No.36 Caden Davis FR
P: No. 95 Nik Constantinou FR
SNAP: Connor Choate, Jake Pagel
PR: No. 0 Ainias Smith SO
KR: No. 5 Jalen Preston SO, No. 2 Chase Lane FR