This game was a bit more intriguing before Monday rolled around. The Gators were -3-point favorites over the Sooners, a spread that might have been even higher if star tight end, Kyle Pitts hadn’t already opted out. However, the Vegas bookmakers have now changed there minds, giving the edge to Oklahoma.
After the news that Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes were also opting out of Wednesday night’s game, the Sooners were named as the favorite by the slightest of margins. Once it was revealed that Jacob Copeland would also miss the Cotton Bowl due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests, the line grew a little more. By the time it was all said and done, the Gators had become 3-point underdogs.
With the core of Florida’s offensive production (31 of 45 receiving touchdowns) opting out, the Gators will need to rely on the younger and less experienced playmakers. Filling in for Trevon Grimes will likely be Justin Shorter. The 6’5″ 225-pound receiver hauled in 23 receptions this season, accounting for 246 yards and three touchdowns.
In addition to Shorter, Gators fans can expect to see a large dose of Xavier Henderson, Trent Whittemore, Ja’Markus Weston, and Ja’Quavion Fraziars this Wednesday night. For some, this will be their first time on the big stage. Others have had moments throughout the season to gain some valuable experience.
Replacing Pitts will be the duo of Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer. Gamble recorded his first touchdown almost immediately after Pitts left the Georgia game. In limited playing time, Gamble recorded 9 catches for 147 yards and a trio of touchdowns. Similarly, Zipperer found himself receiving an increased workload in the absence of Kyle Pitts. During that 3.5-game span, Zipperer pulled in 7 catches for 107 yards and a pair of scores against Arkansas.
The rest of that offensive production will have to be made up from the backfield. Although the Gators haven’t been great at running the football over the past two seasons, they have been very effective at using their running backs in the passing game (just ask Georgia). I would expect Dan Mullen to test the Oklahoma defense with multiple looks on a variety of wheel routes, screens, and check downs. The combination of Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis, and Nay’quan Wright have been capable playmakers in this aerial “running game.”
Wright has been a pleasant surprise for Gators fans, putting together 375 all-purpose yards and a pair of scores. Meanwhile, has been utilized as the every down back and has rushed for 443 yards on the season. While that’s not a mind-blowing output, he has earned those yards with a 4.7 yard per carry average. Like Pierce, Davis has averaged 4.7 yards per carry on his way to 279 yards rushing. However, he has also accounted for 358 yards receiving.
There’s no way around it. This Gators’ offense will look different on Wednesday night. But, with Kyle Trask behind center and Dan Mullen/Brian Johnson calling the plays, Florida should still move the ball effectively. Fortunately for the young Florida receivers, Oklahoma defensive back, Tre Brown has also opted out. However, the Gators’ offensive line could have their hands full with Ronnie Perkins, Isaiah Thomas, and Nik Bonitto applying plenty of defensive pressure.
Oklahoma’s defense has been greatly improved over the season. But they’ve yet to face an offense as potent as the Gators. Fortunately for them, they won’t be facing the same Gators offense that has lit up scoreboards all year. With that said, I still believe that the Gators will move the ball well and put up plenty of points. With an over/under of 70, Vegas agrees.
On the opposite side of the ball, Florida will be without veteran defensive back, Marco Wilson. Depending on who you’re asking, this may be a blessing for Gators fans. Still, this means that a rotation of younger and less experienced defensive backs will be filling in against an underrated Oklahoma offense.
The Sooners have topped 60 in two games this season and they’ve eclipsed 40 points in three others. Additionally, Oklahoma ranks 18th in yards per play and total offense, while coming in at No. 6 in offensive efficiency. Much like Florida, these numbers are largely due to a very good aerial attack.
When it comes to running the ball, the Sooners are apt enough to keep opposing defenses honest. In truth, they resemble the Gators in this regard, ranking 75th in rushing offense. This means that Florida needs to take the run away, forcing Spencer Rattler into winning the game on his own. Although he has put up respectable numbers (2,784 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions), he is a far cry from Baker Mayfield. This isn’t really a slight against him though, as most quarterbacks aren’t Heisman caliber. Florida will need to respect his abilities, shutting down the run and making at least a handful of plays in the passing game.
If you had asked me yesterday, who I thought would win this game, I would have said Florida and never given it a second thought. But after the news of the day, I am not as confident. Don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely a path to victory for the Gators. I still believe they can win this game, making Dan Mullen the first coach in the BCS/CFP era to win three-consecutive New Year’s Six Bowl games in their first three years with a program. But, in all honesty, I don’t really know much about the team that will take the field on Wednesday night.
Because I don’t know what this team looks like, I can’t pick this game with the same confidence that I had yesterday. So, I will have to rely on the components that I DO know. Fortunately, one of them is a Heisman finalist (the most deserving of the group) and the other is one of the most brilliant schemers I’ve ever watched. If I’m basing my pick on that alone, I will take Florida in a shootout. Gators win their third-straight NY6, 38-31.
The Goodyear Cotton Bowl will be broadcast live from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Wednesday, December 30, 2020. Coverage will begin at 8:00 EST.