during the Gators' game against the Auburn Tigers on Saturday, October 5, 2019 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. / UAA Communications photo by Jay Metz
Gator fans have enjoyed watching a team that can once again find the end zone with regularity, and Mullen’s quarterback coaching prowess has only been confirmed through his work with Felipe Franks in year one and then Kyle Trask in year two. The aforementioned Trask is the ultimate underdog success story. Before being thrust into action and leading a comeback win on the road at Kentucky, he hadn’t seen playing time when things really mattered since middle school. The career backup went on to start the rest of the season, posting an 8-2 record in those 10 games while throwing for 2,941 yards and 25 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. His backup isn’t too shabby either, as Emory Jones has seen action and looked impressive frequently over the past two seasons. Between the two, the quarterback position is in good standing.
That stability continues with the rest of the position groups on the offensive side of the ball. Even with four receivers getting drafted, the Gators return a ton of proven talent in guys like Trevon Grimes, Kadarius Toney, Jacob Copeland and Kyle Pitts. Pitts is a versatile tight end who is projected as the first at his position to be selected in next year’s draft. He hauled in 54 receptions with five touchdowns last year, so the targets for whoever is under center are skilled and plentiful.
The loss of Lamical Perine leaves some big shoes to fill at running back, as the underrated now New York Jet was a true all-purpose player in the backfield. Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis will split snaps with former 5-star recruit Lorenzo Lingard, who transferred from Miami and was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. It may take all three to fill Perine’s shoes, but Mullen seems to find a way to utilize the skill sets he has on his roster.
For the first time in ages, the Gators have depth and experience up front. With three starters returning, they have the ability to cycle in linemen up to threedeep at most positions, giving offensive line coach John Hevesy the flexibility he has wanted since he arrived on campus.
The Gators should have their typically stingy defense, and since they take enough pride in their secondary to dub themselves DBU, we will start with the players on the back end. Marco Wilson and Kaiir Elam are as good as any cornerback tandem you will find in the country, and safeties Brad Stewart Jr., Donovan Stiner and Shawn Davis are all game-tested and interchangeable. Throw in Trey Dean at the nickel and the argument for their nickname is certainly warranted.
At linebacker, replacing the rock that was David Reese will be tough, but the talent is on campus in guys like Ventrell Miller, James Houston IV and Jeramiah Moon. True freshman Derek Wingo could also contribute if he lives up to his recruiting hype. The lone question mark is really on the defensive line, where starting experience is lacking but talent is abundant. Former Georgia Bulldog Brenton Cox and rising star Zachary Carter will look to pressure the quarterback, while Kyree Campbell and Tedarrell Slaton hold down the middle of the line. This unit shouldn’t be a weakness, but it’s on them to prove if they can be a strength for this team.
Junior placekicker Evan McPherson, who has converted almost 90 percent of his field goal attempts in his two seasons as a Gator, anchors special teams. The Gators might drop a game they shouldn’t, but this season is “beat Georgia or bust” for Dan Mullen. The schedule sets up nicely for a run at Atlanta and possibly the College Football Playoff, but that will not happen if they don’t leave Jacksonville with a win on October 31.