Gators notebook: Florida offense on record pace

Zach Abolverdi
Special to The Sun
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask has thrown for 2,810 yards and 34 touchdowns this season, while ranking first in the FBS in touchdown passes and fourth in passing yards.

When it’s all said and done, this year’s Florida offense may go down as one of the greatest in school history — and perhaps the best unit Dan Mullen has coached. 

He served as the offensive coordinator and play-caller for the Gators’ 2008 title team, which produced the highest-scoring offense in the history of the SEC (43.6 points per game) and ranked fourth in the country.

His 2014 team at Mississippi State ranked No. 8 nationally in total offense and in the top 25 in scoring offense (16th), passing offense (23rd) and rushing offense (23rd). 

How do the 2020 Gators compare to those units?

“This group tends to be a pass-first group,” Mullen said Wednesday on the SEC coaches teleconference. “We try to be very balanced in the course of a game. But I think the confidence of this group of throwing the football maybe makes them different than some of those other teams.

“The '08 Gators were probably a little more run heavy with explosive playmakers. The ’14 Mississippi State offense was truly balanced, 50-50 run pass. At Utah, we were just running an offense nobody had ever seen before.”

UF rushed for 231.1 yards per game in 2008, the school’s highest average since 1989 with Emmitt Smith in the backfield. This year’s offense, as Mullen indicated, does its damage through the air. 

The Gators are ranked first in the SEC and No. 2 nationally in passing offense, averaging 369.6 yards per game behind the arm of quarterback Kyle Trask. He’s thrown for 2,810 yards through eight games and leads the nation with 34 touchdowns, which is tied with Rex Grossman for third on the program’s single-season record list. 

“He’s playing at a high level and executing the offense,” Mullen said of Trask. “One thing all of those teams had in common was a great quarterback. I think that is a huge factor. Alex Smith has a chance to be the NFL Comeback Player of the Year and lead his team to the playoffs. Dak Prescott, you can see what his loss is. Tim Tebow might have the greatest college career in history.

“All of them had a great quarterback and probably had a different surrounding cast, but a lot of playmakers within their surrounding cast. But this group is different. There’s great confidence with these guys when we throw the football, whether it be play action or drop-back pass.”

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Pitts’ recruitment

Florida’s top playmaker this season is star tight end Kyle Pitts, who had 99 yards receiving and three touchdowns last Saturday against Kentucky. 

Despite missing two and a half games due to a concussion and nasal surgery, Pitts has the second-most receiving touchdowns (11) in the country and ranks second nationally in receiving yards per game (85.5) among tight ends. 

Mullen revealed Wednesday that he liked Pitts on both sides of the ball as a high school prospect. 

“When I got hired he was committed to Florida and we got on the phone right away,” Mullen recalled. “If you watch his high school film, he was a dynamic playmaker on offense. As you can imagine, he was a pretty explosive pass rusher on the defensive side of the ball.”

Pitts played both tight end and defensive end for Archbishop Wood in Philadelphia, making four tackles and two interceptions for the Vikings in their state championship victory. After evaluating his film, Mullen told Pitts he could play offense or defense at Florida. 

“That’s the first discussion we had," Mullen said. “I called him and I said ‘Hey, you can do just about anything at the college level.’ And he’s like, ‘Coach, I’m an explosive offensive player.’ I said, ‘Sounds good to me. Let’s go with it.’” He always thought he was an offensive player.”

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Vols LB dismissed 

Tennessee has dismissed outside linebacker Kivon Bennett from its program following his arrest on weapon and drug charges late Tuesday morning, coach Jeremy Pruitt said in a statement. 

Bennett leads the Vols in tackles for loss (7.5) and is tied for a team-high 4.5 sacks, which ranks fifth among the SEC leaders this season. 

Tennessee will host the No. 5 Gators at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS.

“Always a huge rivalry game, Florida-Tennessee,” Mullen said Wednesday. “Our guys are excited about getting out there and going to play in a big game against a very talented Tennessee team.”