Gator are hardly the Pitts
Dan Mullen had a simple message for his superstar tight end before Saturday's return to the lineup.
"Let the game come to you," Kyle Pitts said his head coach told him.
That's the thing. When you're a guy like Pitts, the offense eventually will come to you.
It had better.
An it did just enough to give Florida a comfortable win Saturday over undermanned Kentucky after a nervous first half. The Kyles — Pitts and Trask — teamed up for three touchdown passes in Florida's 34-10 win.
And as good as the other tight ends have played with Pitts out, we saw on the first touchdown the difference between good and great. His 56-yard touchdown catch-and-run was the kind of special play that few tight ends can make.
That wasn't a linebacker he left in his dust. It was defensive back Kelvin Joseph.
"It was just getting back in the groove and playing how I've been playing," Pitts said. "I was cheering at home for the other guys, though."
Florida needs a healthy Pitts for this stretch run even though Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer had combined for four touchdowns in the last two games. They're really good players. Pitts is a unicorn and those are hard to find.
"He's a great weapon," said Mullen.
He was a needed one, too, because Florida played an odd game against the Wildcats, although we should expect it by now.
Let's see, the defense plays poorly in the second quarter and then turns it on and plays at another level.
The quarterback has to deal with a defense that is set up to stop him and still completes 21-of-27 passes and leaves people to wonder if he's thinking too much about the Heisman Trophy. (He's not.)
"Kyle showed what he's all about," Mullen said. "People are going to say, 'OK, that's a good day.' A lot of quarterbacks would be jumping up and down for that kind of a day."
And yet, this was a game with a twist because, other than Evan McPherson's reliability (of course, he missed one Saturday), there hasn't been much to laud about Florida's special teams this season.
But here they were, getting a first down on a fake punt on the first possession and then turning the game around just before the half. First, the fake punt.
"You practice them and you practice them," Mullen said. "Then you get into that situation and you have to execute."
Dameon Pierce ran for 15 yards from his own 25 and two plays later, Pitts had his first touchdown.
But Kentucky was unfazed. The Wildcats took the lead with 2:13 to play in the first half and the Gator Nation was starting with the flop sweat. When the typical drive at the end of the first half ended with a surprising nothing (thanks to an offensive facemask penalty) instead of the usual something, the nerves were getting a little frayed.
Then, something wonderful happened for the Gators.
Jacob Finn mailed a punt dead at the Kentucky 1-yard line. The defense held the Wildcats, getting its first three-and-out of the day. Then Florida dropped two returners back for the punt.
Kentucky punter Max Duffy, one of the best in America, likes to use those rugby-style boots to one side or the other. Florida had it covered either way.
Ah, but there was a catch.
"A lot of people had been using two returners against them," Mullen said.
Xzavier Henderson acted like the ball was coming to him on the west sideline. He faked out most of the Kentucky punt team, a good portion of the small crowd and, I must confess, both of the old men covering their last game for the newspaper (maybe it IS time).
Instead, the ball went to Kadarius Toney on the other side of the field and that was that. He ran 50 yards and could have run 500.
And from that point on, the plucky Wildcats were done.
Florida's defense started playing Florida defense. You know, the kind the Gators used to play.
"They understand that, that it was not the best we can play," Mullen said. "This game is so much about adjustments. Our guys have a lot of pride and we have coaches who know what they are doing. The players were disappointed in how they played."
After getting gashed and still having problems lining up in the first half, Florida allowed only 21 yards in the second half until the backups entered the game.
And Florida's offense rolled up enough points to cover the spread on the number (gambling is illegal at Bushwood) and take another step toward an SEC East title.
"We haven't done anything yet," Mullen said. "But we're where you want to be."
Celebrating another win.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.