Florida notebook: Gators say they have depth to overcome Pitts absence

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
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Florida tight end Kyle Pitts (84) jokes with teammates during warm-ups before Saturday's game against LSU at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Pitts was a late scratch from the game due to a previous injury.

Florida’s list of unavailable players Saturday included the surprising addition of star tight end Kyle Pitts.

The junior appeared to be sporting a hospital bracelet during his media opportunity Monday for undisclosed reasons; apparently Pitts’ injury was significant enough to keep him out of Saturday’s contest. It’s also possible Pitts saw Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith narrowly avoid becoming the victim of a play that looked a bit dirty.

Aside from Pitts, safety Shawn Davis and linebacker Jeremiah Moon remained out, while back-up running back Nay’Quan Wright was a late scratch. The Gators list also included linebacker David Reese, Kahleil Jackson, Ethan Pouncey, Rashad Torrence II, Lamar Goods, Hayden Knighton, Jaelin Humphries and Lucas Alonso. 

As for LSU, the Tigers barely made the trip. LSU had just 54 scholarship players available for the contest. According to Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger, the Tigers had just four linebackers available for the contest. This comes after having a quarterback contest throughout the week between freshman quarterbacks T.J. Finley and Max Johnson, with the latter ultimately being announced as the starter for UF’s regular season finale. LSU also was without starting cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. for the contest. 

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask denied the Gators lost the game due to the absence of their star tight end, saying the outcome wasn’t Pitts’ fault considering UF has plenty of depth when it comes to pass-catching targets. 

"I mean, yeah Kyle is a great offensive weapon for us, but I think that we had — I don't know what the stats were, but we had a ton of yards of offense and we have so many weapons other than Kyle, that we should be able to score on anybody,” Trask said. “We had so many yards, but the thing is that we just weren't getting touchdowns, and you know that's a key factor when you want to win football games, is scoring in the red-zone.” 

Gators, Mullen honor Keyontae

Keyontae Johnson’s collapse devastated Florida’s football team as well, many of whom know Johnson personally, and UF made sure to honor the junior forward prior to taking on LSU.

Gators walk-on tight end Clifford Taylor IV included Johnson in his Senior Night ceremonies. 

Prior to Taylor’s tribute, Florida held a moment of silence for Johnson and encouraged attending fans to keep the thoughts and prayers coming. 

Following Florida’s shocking 37-34 loss to LSU, Gators coach Dan Mullen opened his postgame news conference by extending his thoughts and prayers to Johnson and his family. 

“As we saw earlier today, our thoughts and prayers are with Keyontae and his family and everything that he’s going through right now,” Mullen said. “We see that with everybody in our basketball program, really our whole Gator family. That shows there’s a lot more than just games out there in life. So our prayers are with him and his family.”

Florida senior tight end Clifford Taylor IV shows a tribute to Gators basketball player Keyontae Johnson during Saturday's game against LSU at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Early turnovers turn tide

Prior to the outcome, Florida fans had reason to jeer in the second quarter. 

LSU Tigers defensive back Elias Ricks jumped the slant from Gators quarterback Kyle Trask and sprinted 68 yards into the end zone for the defensive touchdown — but not before Ricks added insult to injury  

Ricks looked back at Trask and appeared to taunt Florida’s Heisman Trophy hopeful quarterback before sailing untouched into UF’s end zone. 

The Gators fans in attendance erupted into a chorus of boos, yet they unknowingly were just getting started. 

On Florida’s very next drive, Trask completed a 50-yard pass to Trevon Grimes only to be picked on an unlikely sideline interception by Tigers defender Jay Ward. The officiating crew reviewed the play and confirmed Trask had thrown his second interception in as many drives.

To make matters worse, Trask lost his first fumble of the season to wrap up a disastrous second quarter from a turnover standpoint. To his credit, UF’s redshirt senior signal-caller took the blame after the fact. 

“Just a couple of bad decisions really on my part. I take full responsibility for everything,” Trask said. “I just got to play cleaner — that’s pretty much it.” 

Miller’s career day wasted

Florida’s defense allowed freshman quarterback Max Johnson to throw for 239 yards and three touchdowns in his first start, but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort on the part of Gators starting linebacker Ventrell Miller. 

The redshirt junior finished the game with a career-high 16 tackles, breaking his previous mark of 15 tackles set in UF’s season-opening victory at Ole Miss, along with two tackles-for-loss and a sack. Unfortunately for the Gators, Miller’s performance didn’t result in a positive outcome.

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