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Gators notebook: Florida entered Cotton Bowl short-handled

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida coach Dan Mullen talks with quarterback Kyle Trask after Trask threw a pass into the end zone that was intercepted by Oklahoma's Woodi Washington during the first quarter of the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas on Wednesday.

Florida coach Dan Mullen said Tuesday his team would have about 60 scholarship players available for the 85th Cotton Bowl Classic, and the absences announced just prior to kickoff included multiple notable Gators. 

UF announced it was without 17 players, eight of them starters, for the trip, including the unexpected addition of starting linebacker Ventrell Miller.

Prior to departing for Dallas, the Gators saw tight end Kyle Pitts and wide receivers Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney announce they’d be foregoing the New Year’s Six Bowl in order to prepare for the 2021 NFL draft. 

Furthermore, Florida junior wide receiver Jacob Copeland announced he’d be missing the trip due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests. Multiple media reports indicated Marco Wilso would opt out as well. 

Starting safety Shawn Davis and reserve outside linebacker Jeremiah Moon were unavailable as well, along with David Reese, Kahleil Jackson, Ethan Pouncey, Rashad Torrence II, Lamar Goods, Hayden Knighton, Jaelin Humphries, Marlon Dunlap and Lucas Alonso. 

Down 14-0 within minutes

Florida’s start to the game went about as poorly as possible. 

After the Sooners orchestrated a five-play, 79-yard drive against Florida’s banged-up defense to go up 7-0 early, the Gators had a chance to answer with Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Kyle Trask back under center for possibly the last time in a UF uniform. 

Unfortunately it also wasn’t a successful first series for Trask and Florida’s offense. 

Trask completed a 13-yard pass to wide receiver Justin Shorter on his first throw, but his second was easily intercepted by Oklahoma defensive back Tre Norwood at the UF 38-yard line. Norwood jogged untouched down the sideline into the end zone to put the Sooners up 14-0 within the first three minutes of action. 

Fortunately for Trask, Heisman Trophy voting already ended, but his interception — just his fifth during what has been a magnificent season — was anything but exemplary, and it dug Florida further into a hole after already being in one without eight starters. 

Although one has to credit Sooners defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and Oklahoma’s top-20 defense for coming out ready to play. Trask was just getting started when it came to unexpected and uncanny turnovers, however

Emory leads first UF touchdown drive

Florida quarterback Emory Jones gave the world glimpses of UF’s future at the position in the second quarter. 

Jones helped orchestrate UF’s first touchdown of the night on a 16-play, 88-yard drive that saw the former top-ranked prospect complete five of eight passes for 73 yards while rushing five times for 31 yards and a score from a yard out. Although it was clear Jones might have been slightly unprepared for the extended action, as ESPN’s cameras captured him repeatedly vomiting on the field during the drive. 

Jones also was checked out by Florida’s trainers for an apparent left arm injury, although neither that or the likely dehydration kept UF’s next-man-up at signal-caller from staying in the contest. 

Mullen did go back to Trask on Florida’s next drive, and the Gators would manage just a field goal, begging the question if the offense should have stuck with Jones. Either way, his early first-half showing was a sign Florida still has a promising future at the position. 

Most points allowed in 25 years

There weren’t any current Gators alive the last time Florida allowed 55 points in a game. UF’s 55-20 loss marked the most points the Gators had allowed since the 1996 Fiesta Bowl when the Gators suffered a 62-24 defeat to Nebraska in a match-up of unbeaten teams. 

No bowl bonuses

As per the terms of his contract, Mullen was due to receive a $200,000 bonus for reaching a New Year’s Six bowl, but he and his coaching staff will forego bonuses this season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher also waived his 2020 bowl bonus. Meanwhile, Alabama coach Nick Saban is still in line to receive $925,000 in bonuses if the top-ranked Crimson Tide win the national championship.