Gators notebook: Pitts to play, Saban wanted Toney

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
Florida tight end Kyle Pitts (84) jokes with other players during warmups Saturday before the game against LSU at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Pitts was a late scratch from the game because of a prior injury.

After missing the regular season finale, Florida star tight end Kyle Pitts will be back against No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

Gators coach Dan Mullen said Sunday that UF trainers expect Pitts to be cleared to play this week. 

“That’s the plan,” Pitts said Monday. 

Pitts warmed up prior to the LSU game Saturday, but was scratched by the medical staff due to a lingering injury from the win at Tennessee. He didn’t practice last week, but was still hoping to suit up against the Tigers. 

“It was kind of a game-time decision,” Pitts said. “The medical professionals made that call. I trust them. We all trust them. I went along with their decision. 

“I was planning to play up till then. Then they told me it was best that I don't.”

Pitts admits he still lobbied to play even after Florida’s trainers ruled him out. As difficult as it was for him to be sidelined, he understands they had his best interest in mind. 

“I trust their judgment,” Pitts said. “I just had to deal with it. It's not something I kind of beat myself up about. … That was a big part I had to realize, they're looking out for the future, not just this one game. 

“Although we do have more games to play, I have more football to play after I leave the university. They knew what was best for me.”

Pitts posted only an ellipsis on his Twitter account following Florida’s 37-34 loss, causing some to wonder whether he was upset about not being able to play or looking to opt out. 

He laughed off the speculation Monday when asked what he meant by the tweet.

“Just losing. Nothing to say,” explained Pitts, who wasn’t surprised by the social media reaction. “I kind of figured that (would happen), because that’s what fans and media are supposed to do. Sometimes they take things out of proportion or jump to certain statements. There was nothing behind it.”

Pitts has now missed three and a half games after his concussion earlier in the season, but still ranks No. 4 among all FBS players with 11 touchdowns. He has 36 catches for 641 yards and leads the nation in receiving yards per game (91.6) among tight ends.

“Kyle Pitts, he's a fantastic player,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “His size and speed and athleticism, all those things make it very difficult to guard the guy. He's a very versatile player. He can play tight end, he can play on the line, he can play off the ball, out as a receiver. They move him around a lot. Creates a lot of issues and problems for you, no doubt. Probably as well as anybody we played against for a long time.”

Mullen said the Gators are a “banged-up team” when discussing his injury situation. He’s hoping a few more players will return to action Saturday in addition to Pitts, including starting safety Shawn Davis. 

“In meeting with the trainers, they feel there's a good chance we could get some guys back,” Mullen said. “The opportunity for Shawn Davis to come back, Jeremiah Moon to come back. Nay'Quan Wright should be back for us. 

“We still expect to be without David Reese. Ty'Ron Hopper was out last game, we expect to have him back. Marlon Dunlap got banged up last week. We expect to have him back this week as well.”

Saban wanted Toney

With Pitts out against LSU, wide receiver Kadarius Toney had his best game as a Gator on Senior Night. 

He finished with 249 all-purpose yards, including career highs in 182 receiving yards (182) and receptions (nine) along with three carries for a season-high 56 yards. 

Saban is familiar with Toney, a former high school quarterback from Mobile, Ala. He led Blount to a 20-5 record in his last two seasons, passing for 6,498 yards combined and 69 total touchdowns. 

Alabama was one of only eight schools to offer Toney, who was rated a three-star athlete. 

“He was an outstanding high school player,” Saban said. “His quickness and ability to run jerk routes and change direction, get in and out of breaks, is fantastic. I just think he's a really complete player as a receiver, especially when he's in the slot. He's a difficult matchup, creates a lot of problems. We'd love to have him here, I can tell you that.”

Toney and Pitts are the fifth Gators duo in school history to both have at least nine receiving touchdowns for the season, and the first since Jabar Gaffney (13) and Reche Caldwell (10) in 2001.

Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II was asked Monday what stands out about Toney and Pitts on film.

“Toney, he's very shifty. He creates separation. He's a great play-maker,” Surtain said. “Pitts, he's a big body guy that creates separation through using his body. He's great at the point of attack.”