During the Gators' game against the Aggies on Saturday, October 10, 2020 at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas / UAA Communications photo by Tim Casey
2020 Results: 8-4, 8-2 (SEC)
2021 Projection: 9-3, 5-3 (SEC)
Dan Mullen’s offense was almost unstoppable for the majority of 2020. Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes are all on NFL rosters in 2021 however and that is a lot of production to replace. The defense was unexplainably bad last season, but fans are hoping a shakeup in secondary coaching will change that, after a veteran unit was regularly torched. The good news is they have the talent on the roster to rebound, but can embattled Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham coach them back to an elite level?
Out goes Kyle Trask and in comes Emory Jones. The former Heard County Brave has patiently waited his turn to take over Mullen’s spread attack and is arguably a better fit than his predecessor. Behind him is a beast of a player named Anthony Richardson who’s brut physique will be put to use in the quarterback run game, so expect Dan to utilize both players.
The Gators have had six receivers taken in the draft the last two seasons, so that is a huge question mark going into 2021. Jacob Copeland, Justin Shorter, Xavier Henderson and Trent Whittemore are all capable of filling those gaps with Copeland and Shorter having super star potential. Replacing Kyle Pitts will be a by committee approach, but Kenmore Gamble and Keon Zipperer are a solid pair.
The running back room is stacked, with Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis offering experience while former five-star transfers Demarkcus Bowman and Lorenzo Lingard bringing game breaking speed and playmaking ability. There is no lack of talent, but the question remains can the big nasties create holes for them to run through?
Experience returns up front, but can OL Coach John Hevesy finally get them playing downhill?
Josh Braun and Ethan White bring girth at guard unseen in Gainesville for some time and the hope is this unit can turn the corner.
It was hard to find excuses for the performance by this unit in 2020. The secondary blew coverages regularly and the pass rush disappeared at crucial times. Two transfers were brought in to get more push up the middle in Daquan Newkirk of Auburn and Antonio Shelton of Penn State. Both of those gentlemen are over 320 lbs and have plenty of experience to work alongside rising-star Gervon Dexter.
If those guys get a push up the middle, Zachery Carter, Brenton Cox Jr. and Mohamoud Diabate should feast off the edge. Ventrell Miller is rock solid at middle linebacker and the secondary has future NFL starters all over the field. If the gators are better up front it will undoubtedly benefit the secondary, but if the gators bust on any coverages in first three games expect Grantham to be greeted with pitch forks.
The Gators must replace both Evan McPherson and Jacob Finn, but do so with very capable players. Transfer Jace Christmann comes over from Mississippi State after hitting 32-40 field goals during his stint in Starkville while Australian product Jeremy Crawshaw takes over the punting duties. Replacing Kadarius Toney in the return game won’t be easy, but overall the gators should be in good shape on special teams.
Mullen accomplished some big goals last year in beating Georgia and winning the East, but 3 straight losses to end the season soured an otherwise special season. Expectations are the gators will take a step back, but I believe they are a legitimate threat to win the east and maybe more. Playing both Alabama and LSU as crossover opponents is going to leave little room for error however and that should probably be enough for Georgia to win the East.