Abolverdi's answers: Gators commit costly fumbles in shootout

Zach Abolverdi
Gainesville Sun
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask throws Saturday with Alabama defender Phidarian Mathis (48) in his face during the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Before every Florida game, Gainesville Sun football beat writer Zach Abolverdi comes up with five pertinent questions and then answers them after the game. Here's Week 11, SEC Championship edition:

Who will emerge from Saturday’s game as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner?

Prior to the conference title, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey argued that Florida’s Kyle Pitts gave the game four potential Heisman candidates along with Kyle Trask, Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith. If there’s a fifth finalist, it should be Alabama running back Najee Harris. He took home MVP honors with 245 total yards and five touchdowns, including 178 yards on the ground and three receiving scores — all in the second quarter. The game also featured a five-TD performance from Jones, who may take home the trophy after outdueling Florida’s record-setting QB. I still think Trask will receive some votes, but Smith appears to have emerged as the frontrunner after making a career-high 15 receptions for 184 yards and a pair of scores. 

Florida tight end Kyle Pitts catches a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter Saturday against Alabama during the SEC Championship Game at at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Will Kyle Pitts play, and does he produce his third 100-yard receiving game?

In his last game as a Gator, Pitts put on a performance to remember. He hauled in seven receptions for 129 yards, including a long of 31 and an incredible 22-yard touchdown to keep Florida in the game. Pitts also had a trio of third-down catches to move the chains and solidified himself as a first-round pick, declaring for the NFL draft Sunday. He became the all-time leader in receiving yards by a UF tight end, and the first in program history with three games of 100-plus receiving yards in the same season. Pitts finishes his junior campaign with 43 catches for 770 yards and a school-record 12 touchdowns, tying him with Kirk Kirkpatrick (1990) for second on Florida’s single-season record list for receiving yards by a tight end. 

Can the Gators limit DeVonta Smith, who leads the nation in long scrimmage plays?

The Gators had their moments vs. Smith, but he produced more against them. After recovering the first-quarter fumble by Trey Dean III, Smith got wide open for a 31-yard touchdown. He made a 24-yard grab on that same drive and put the game away in the fourth with his 15-yard score. Outside of those three catches and a 21-yarder, however, the Gators did a good job of preventing Smith from burning them for big plays. Of his 15 receptions, eight of them went for less than 10 yards and six for five yards or less. He also caught a 27-yard pass in the third quarter, but Alabama punted on that possession.

Can UF win the turnover battle against Alabama, which leads the SEC in turnover margin?

UF lost the turnover battle 2-1. Not only did both fumbles hurt the Gators, but Alabama didn’t suffer any negative repercussions from Jones’ pick. Dean was blindsided on his interception return by John Metchie, who should have been ejected for targeting as replay showed helmet-to-helmet contact. Smith scored on the ensuing play to put the Tide ahead 14-7, and that was a huge sequence early. Trask’s sack fumble in the fourth quarter effectively ended the game, although Florida’s defense kept it competitive by forcing a field goal after Alabama took over at the UF 10. The Gators are lucky they only lost two of their five fumbles. 

Will Florida's offense win the red-zone battle and score touchdowns inside the 20?

After missing out on 22 potential points in the red zone in the loss to LSU, Florida had four trips inside the 20 Saturday and made all of them count. Each one resulted in a touchdown, including short scoring runs by Trask and running backs Nay’Quan Wright and Dameon Pierce. The Gators didn’t have time to grind it out on their final red-zone possession. After a two-yard loss on first down, Trask hooked up with Pitts to make it a one-score game with two minutes left to play. UF got the ball back again, but there wouldn’t be a fifth trip inside the 20. “If we just had a little bit more time,” Trask said afterward, “we're sitting here the SEC champions.”