The Rebel RoundUp: Getting to know the Florida Gators
OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss football is finally almost here! And while fans are not allowed to tailgate in The Grove due to COVID restrictions, there’s still plenty of excitement in Oxford as head coach Lane Kiffin’s “Lane Train” is ready to pull into The Vaught!
— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) September 22, 2020
If you’re not one of the approximately 16,000 fans (again, stadium capacity limited due to COVID) who will be in attendance this weekend — or on one of the cutouts that will be posted around the stadium — then you’re likely getting ready for a fun Saturday at your own personal tailgate.
- Kickoff: 12 PM ET / 11 AM CT
- TV: ESPN
- Stream: ESPN WATCH
- Memphis: WHBQ-AM 560
- Oxford: WOXF-FM 105.1
- Jackson: WFMN-FM 97.3
Questions will be answered soon
With no media allowed at practices — yes, you guessed it…due to COVID restrictions — there’s not a lot to go on as to what the 2020 Rebels will look like. The good news is it will be tough for teams to prepare for Kiffin’s Ole Miss team if they don’t know what to expect.
Here are some questions for which we will have answers soon:
- Who will be the team’s starting QB? Will both Matt Corral and John Rhys Plumlee play?
- How will the offense will look under new OC Jeff Lebby? Will there be a new pass-run balance as players have indicated in media opportunities?
- What kind of impact will we see from tight end grad transfer Kenny Yeboah?
- Will we see much of true freshman running back Henry Parrish Jr., as he is listed on the depth chart alongside Jerrion Ealy? What will we see of Snoop Conner?
- How much will we see of Sam Williams come gameday and will his absence from the team earlier in the fall affect his conditioning?
- How will the young Ole Miss offensive line, with Ben Brown this season’s starter at center, hold up against the tough Florida defense?
- Will the Ole Miss defensive line be able to fill the shoes of players like Benito Jones, Josiah Coatney, Qaadir Sheppard and Austrian Robinson?
- Will Georgia transfer Otis Reese get his potential waiver from the NCAA? Will Deane Leonard, who has been approved by the NCAA but not by the SEC, hear from the league before Saturday’s game?
We will learn the answer to some of these questions Saturday, but for now let’s take a look at what to expect from the Gators.
Series History and Side Notes
Saturday will be the 25th match-up between Ole Miss and the University of Florida. Overall, the series has been very close with Ole Miss holding a record of 12-11-1 against the Gators. The last match-up took place on October 3rd, 2015 in Gainesville, with Florida winning 38-10.
The first-ever meeting took place in 1926, and Ole Miss won, 12-7. The majority of the series has been played in Gainesville, but Florida holds the winning record over games played in Oxford with a 5-2 record. This Saturday will be the first time we see Mullen vs Kiffin as head coaches; however, the two do have previous experience across the sidelines from one other from Kiffin’s time at Alabama and Mullen’s time in Starkville. Mullen has a career record of 5-4 against Ole Miss. Kiffin, on the other hand has a 0-1, record against Florida.
Dan Mullen boasts a 21-5 record since taking over at Florida. Historically, he likes his offenses to be balanced with a very even mix of rushing and passing. In 2018, Florida averaged 213 yards passing and 213 rushing yards per game. Last season may have been the exception to the rule, as the Gators focused heavily on the passing game. On the defensive side of the ball UF looks to continue the trend of having a stingy defense that normally finishes in the Top 20 for average points allowed.
The 2019-2020 Gators are filled with big expectations for the season, and back-to-back, 10-win seasons have them believing they can make a run at the CFB Playoff.
Like Ole Miss on Monday, Florida released the Gators’ initial depth chart for the Week One match-up.
Gators depth chart vs Ole Miss pic.twitter.com/z6Loh7iCXR
— David Waters – Gators Breakdown (@GatorDave_SEC) September 21, 2020
Florida returns breakout QB Kyle Trask who will be the starter for the upcoming season. Trask entered the lineup last year after an injury to Feleipe Franks (who has since transferred to Arkansas) and saw his first starting action as a quarterback since his freshman year of high school.
Trask ended last season with 25 TDs and 7 interceptions. He mostly excels in the underneath game and in getting the ball out quickly. The big match-up will be how Ole Miss safeties A.J. Finley and Jaylon Jones read Trask’s eyes. Similar to Ole Miss, Florida has a dual-threat QB in Emory Jones who could see the field in different packages.
Florida lost last year’s feature back LaMichael Perine but looks to have an interesting situation with their RBs for 2020. Listed as an “OR” situation they have Malik Davis and Dameon Pierce as the potential starters. Davis showed some flash in his first season but quickly was demoted to third string behind Perine and Pierce last season. Pierce seems to be the favorite but look out for Miami transfer Lorenzo Lingard as a potential pass catcher out of the backfield
Wide Receiver/Tight End
If you haven’t heard of him yet, get to know the name Kyle Pitts. An All-SEC First Team selection last year, Pitts will be the main target for Trask following the departures of Van Jefferson, Tyrie Cleveland, and Joshua Hammond. The wide receiver position could be a little tricky for the Gators, but look for senior Trevon Grimes and redshirt sophomore Jacob Copeland to also get serious looks.
The Gators offensive line struggled last year, and as a result the Gators had to rely more heavily on the passing game. However, Florida possesses four starters from last year (one grad transfer) on the offensive line. It is worth noting that center/guard Ethan White has undergone knee surgery and will miss Saturday’s game against Ole Miss. The unit possesses four redshirt seniors who are led by the newly appointed center Brett Heggie who switched from the guard position. RG Stewart Reese is a graduate transfer from Mississippi State.
Florida lost two starters on the defensive front, including sack leader Jon Greenard; however, senior starting defensive tackle Kyree Campbell will be available Saturday. There had been some question as to his availability for the season-opener against Ole Miss, but Mullen put that to rest in Wednesday’s coaches media teleconference. “Yeah, oh yeah,” Mullen said when asked if Campbell can play against the Rebels. He adds another big presence to the inside of that defensive front. The Gators still have T.J. Slayton who will look to take up blocks with his 340-lb frame, along with three other 300+ pounders in Marlon Dunlap, Zach Carter, and Gerreon Dexter. The big wild card to keep an eye on is Georgia transfer Brenton Cox, Jr. who will be lining up as a pass rusher on the outside.
The Gators run a different scheme that focuses with a two-linebacker set and a STAR (nickel back) who can act as a linebacker if needed. Ventrel Miller is the main returner as a starter from last year’s squad where he finished with 55 tackles. Amari Burney is named as the starter alongside him, and he is an interesting match-up as he is considered a hybrid, with a freakish level of athleticism. He is a hard hitter but also very agile.
The big STAR of the group (he plays STAR) is C.J. McWilliams who is a redshirt senior looking to make an impact after the loss of CJ Henderson last year. The other big name to look out for is sophomore Kalir Elam who will be starting on the outside. At 6’2″, he possesses good length. At the top of the field will be two starting seniors at the safety position in Donovan Stiner and Shawn Davis.
Florida Special Teams
The Gators return place kicker Evan McPherson who is entering his third year as a starter. His career-long is at just about 50 yards. Florida lost Punter Tommy Townsend after last season and will be going with redshirt senior Jacob Finn.
It should be quite a game Saturday. As of Wednesday night, the Gators are a 14-point favorite over the Rebels. We wouldn’t be surprised at all if Kiffin and Company make it a far, far closer game. Hotty Toddy!
TJ Oxley is the Vice President of Operations and the Director of Community Relations for The Rebel Walk. He is also the Director of Basketball Content and Senior Basketball Writer. He has over five years of experience providing in-depth analysis of college basketball through multiple platforms. A former MBA graduate of Ole Miss, TJ started with The Rebel Walk in 2019.