Kyle Pitts returns to a Florida Gators receiver group that is deeper than when he left
Losing one of the best offensive players in college football to an injury is never a good thing. But, for the Florida offense, some good actually did come out of tight end Kyle Pitts missing the last two games.
During that time, the Gators learned that not only can they survive without one of their most potent weapons, they can thrive.
Pitts’ absence was not conspicuous in the two one-sided victories over Arkansas and Vanderbilt in which the Gators combined to score 101 points and rack up 1,179 total yards, 798 passing yards and nine touchdown passes, five caught by backup tight ends Keon Zipperer and Kemore Gamble.
“Obviously, Pitts brings a lot of mismatches to defenses, but at the same time we have so many great tight ends and receivers, so many weapons overall,” quarterback Kyle Trask said Monday. “So, I’m still going to trust my guys to get open no matter who’s out there, so obviously it doesn’t change a whole lot for me as far as going through my reads because I’m just trying to read the defense and find the open guy.”
Gamble, Zipperer and others bolster pass offense
The options are many in the passing game, even when Pitts isn’t out there. That’s a good thing. Here’s an even better thing: Pitts has fully recovered from the concussion he sustained in the Georgia game and is full go for Saturday’s game against Kentucky.
So, given the emergence of Gamble, Zipperer and others in the passing game, the Gators are now stronger and deeper at the skill positions than they were before Pitts left.
"It’s great to get him back. We’re excited about that,” UF coach Dan Mullen said of Pitts. “He’s another weapon that we’re adding into the game, the rotation. He’s got to go battle for some playing time right now; because those other guys are playing pretty good. I think he’s such a playmaker, he’s such a leader and brings such great personality, as well, to the team. Just having him back on the field is going to be great for everybody and for the match-up problem that he causes defenses."
Another weapon for Trask
Pitts’ return gives the Gators perhaps the most productive — and dangerous — tight end groups in college football. Pitts, Gamble and Zipperer have combined for 38 receptions for 656 yards and 13 touchdowns, which leads the nation for the position.
All three were highly rated, four-star recruits coming out of high school. Pitts began to emerge that season, pulling ahead of the other two and showing signs that he had a chance to be special. Even with Pitts becoming THE guy at tight end, the other two decided to stick around — and they’re now flashing big-time playmaking ability in games.
“I’m the type of guy that I don’t want to get stuff easy,” Gamble said Monday. “I always want to have competition around me. When (Pitts) got here, I was like, ‘Hmm, this guy’s talented, he’s very athletic, I like that type of competition, so I ain’t going to leave and I’ll stick it out here and we can battle.’
“My dad always taught me never run from competition, you’ve always got to sit down and face it and never just run. My dad and my step dad used to always tell me that. I was brought up hard and nothing comes easy."
Maybe Pitts was in a similar situation a few weeks ago. Projected as a top-five draft pick this spring, Pitts could have opted out for the rest of the season after the big blow to the head he took in the Georgia game that concussed him and led to nose surgery.
But he gave no indication of ever considering that move.
“He was trying to play this past game,” Mullen said. “He wanted to go play. I don’t think that (opting out) was ever something that popped up. I think if you just look at his competitive spirit, who he is, he’s played with a competitive chip all year. He wants to continue to do that.
“You can ask him and the family, but everything we heard, we were in close contact with the family, and he thought he should have been cleared to play this past week. Obviously, wasn’t and even if it was on the edge we would have been extremely conservative putting him back out there on the field.”
Pitts is back and ready to go again — and the Gators figure to be even more potent now in the passing game than before he left.
Gators vs. Kentucky
Who: Kentucky (3-5) vs. No. 5 Florida (6-1)
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850