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Gator notebook: More players available for Florida

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida running back Dameon Pierce picks up yardage Saturday against Georgia at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.

Florida received some positive news prior to kick-off for a change when it came to the list of available players.

On top of Tuesday’s announcement that the Gators hadn’t received a positive COVID-19 test in the week following the team’s return to the field, UF defensive backs Marco Wilson, Donovan Stiner and Shawn Davis made their returns to the starting line-up prior to kick off against Georgia. Florida’s offensive line and special teams received a boost, too, respectively, with Ethan White’s season debut and Evan McPherson’s return. White underwent knee surgery in preseason camp, and UF coach Dan Mullen at the time said it wouldn’t keep him out all of 2020, which rang true Saturday. 

As to the unavailable players, the Gators announced at kick-off they’d be without two consistent contributors, defensive back Trey Dean — who injured his ankle against Missouri — and defensive tackle Jaelin Humphries, in addition to the absences of  Kahleil Jackson, Ethan Pouncey, Isaac Ricks, Mordecai McDaniel, William Sawyer, Austin Perry, Hayden Knighton, Josh Tse and Lucas Alonso. 

Defensive debut disaster

It didn’t take long for Florida’s defense to regress in a demoralizing way from its strong showing against Missouri. 

After McPherson’s kick-off gave Georgia the ball on the 25-yard line on the opening drive of the game, the 'Dawgs’ offense dialed up a perfect play call from the jump. 

Georgia running back Zamir White took the handoff 75 yards for the game’s opening score on the first offensive play of the afternoon, giving UGA a 7-0 lead less than a minute into the action. 

Any hopes the Gators had of evening the score on their first drive were subsequently squandered by a three-and-out, and within the first 3:16 of action UGA had a 14-0 lead. 

"On the sideline we just kept our heads up and kept playing. The first two touchdowns were off of just busted plays, and we're the type of team that shouldn't be giving up any plays,” UF defensive back Kaiir Elam said. “So it was just added motivation to keep going. I'm just happy nobody put their heads down. Everybody was motivated to get back out there and just play the game of football.”

Elam contributes in turning of tide

Elam’s freshman stint against Georgia was brief, but he felt the impact of last season’s loss regardless of the minimal contribution. 

Saturday, the Florida defensive back made sure to assert his presence. 

The 'Dawgs completed just nine passes for 112 yards against the Gators, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Georgia missed on 20 passes, with one of them landing in Elam’s arms for his first interception of the 2020 season. After the letdown during his freshman season, Elam said UF reverted to form. 

“I feel like we should never lose, like the type of team we have, and our goals, we should never lose, and for us to lose last year, it was something in my heart that didn’t sit right, so for us to come out and win like we did, still a lot of stuff we could have cleaned up,” he said. “For us to be a national championship team, we have to keep executing, but I think we played OK.”

Banged-up Pitts remains dominant

Only illegal plays could stop Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.

Before he left the field after a targeting penalty on Lewis Cine, Pitts set another UF offensive record by breaking the single-season school record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end with his eighth touchdown reception in 2020. The record, previously held by Cornelius Ingram and Kirk Kirkpatrick with seven apiece, was broken on Pitts’ 25-yard score to even the game at 21-21 midway through the second quarter. After the game, UF coach Dan Mullen praised Florida’s ability to remain efficient with Pitts and multiple starters out. 

“You’re down three starting offensive linemen. You’re down one of the best playmakers in college football in Kyle Pitts. You’re down a lot of different guys, but we did a good job managing there in the second half and finding ways to make plays,” Mullen said. “That was a big hit, so the trainers said that he would be out the rest of the game. We will check him out as that goes the rest of the week.”

Five-five-five?

Florida’s offense has been nearly unstoppable this season. For the first time since 2008, the Gators have five-plus offensive touchdowns in five consecutive games. It’s also the first time since 2008 that Florida has scored five offensive touchdowns in five games against SEC teams. Florida also posted 500-plus total yards against consecutive SEC opponents for the first time since 2007 when UF had 554 yards against Tennessee on Sept. 15 and 507 yards at Ole Miss on Sept. 22.