The Florida Gators will finally kickoff the 2020 SEC football season this Saturday in Oxford, MS. This will be the first time that Dan Mullen has faced the Rebels since his final season at Mississippi State, where he boasted a 5-4 record vs. the in-state rival. Florida opened as a -12.5 point favorite against Lane Kiffin’s new team, but has since seen the spread grow to -14.5.
With no spring football, a shortened fall camp, and an early kickoff (11:00 am local time), this game has the potential for a shaky start. However, Florida has a major advantage in that this is Mullen’s third year with the team and he has a solid starting quarterback in Kyle Trask. Although the Gators will need to replace the production that they lost when LaMical Perine, Van Jefferson, and Freddie Swain left for the NFL, they still have a few proven playmakers and a couple that show promise as well.
Right out of the gate, tight end, Kyle Pitts is a mismatch every time he’s on the field. With his large frame, soft hands, and deceptive speed, Pitts will be a favorite target throughout the season. In addition to Pitts, the Gators boast a receiving corps that, if lacking in experience, makes up for it in explosiveness.
The receivers will be led by Trevon Grimes and Penn State transfer, Justin Shorter. When you add Jacob Copeland and a healthy and much improved Kadarius Toney, this unit should have its way with an Ole Miss secondary that allowed 278 yards per game through the air last season.
The biggest question mark for the Gators, entering this game, is the offensive line. Last season, John Hevesy’s group ranked 122nd in run blocking. With a full season under their belts, early reports out of camp have been positive that this group will be much improved. If they can maintain the same level of pass protection that they offered last season while also generating some push in the ground game, defenses beware.
A balanced attack by Dan Mullen’s offense could produce a lot of points. Looking to benefit from any gains made by the offensive line will be running backs Damien Pierce, Malik Davis, and Miami transfer, Lorenzo Lingard. While it remains unclear how many touches each back will receive, Mullen tends to rotate often, allowing them to stay fresh throughout the game. If the reports from fall camp are true, Malik Davis could be in for a special season, and that is music to the ears of Gator Nation.
As a true freshman, Davis electrified Gators fans before having his season cut short due to a knee injury. Before the injury, Davis averaged 6.7 YPC, gaining 526 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 79 carries. Additionally, he hauled in 7 receptions totaling 58 yards.
Defensively, the Gators will have one of the nation’s best secondaries and a defensive line that appears to have just reloaded from last season. Facing off against a very talented group of receivers, the secondary will have to make a statement early. Lane Kiffin is known for creative offensive play calling and will likely attempt to catch the Gators off guard with some early chicanery. If they can stay focused and stick to their fundamentals, Florida should take control in the third quarter. I think Florida covers the spread, winning 35-17.
The game will be broadcast live from Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium in Oxford, MS. on ESPN. Kickoff is at 12 pm EST.