Florida football: Gators back in driver’s seat in SEC East

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Two weeks ago, the Gators season was all but over. Florida football endured a tumultuous stretch to say the least after an upset loss to Texas A&M was compounded by an outbreak, which cost the team two weeks’ worth of practices and games. The Gators played all of three contests, and the train was already derailing.

The offense looked promising, but costly mistakes led to the team bleeding opportunities. The defense couldn’t make a stop, let alone cause a big play or a turnover. Special teams were inconsistent. The pieces were in play, but coach Dan Mullen‘s opening book moves left far too much room on the board. A two-week break seemed a disaster for a team that couldn’t get on the same page.

Florida rolls past Missouri

When the Gators came out of their back-to-back bye weeks with two early field goals negated by a pick-six gift to Missouri, the table appeared set for another lackluster shootout.

Weird things happen in college sports sometimes. As halftime drew near, a chippy game turned violent when a late hit on Kyle Trask at the buzzer initiated a full on, Joe Louis Arena style line brawl. Somewhere within the countless punches thrown, officials failing to separate players, and Mullen loosening his wallet by about $25,000 worth of instigation fines, the switch flipped on the Gators season.

The defense shut down the Tigers for the rest of the game, allowing only a field goal and garbage-time touchdown in the kind of performance that was nowhere to be found in the first three games. Trask didn’t miss a beat after the late hit, closing out the game with drive after drive of chewing up clock and territory. Although it was just one game, the Gators finally delivered the complete performance they had been so badly missing just in time for the biggest game of the year.

Gators control SEC East

Kirby Smart‘s Georgia team didn’t need a quarterback to hold serve as the SEC East favorites for the umpteenth straight year. The Bulldogs looked strong all year, even behind fourth string signal caller Stetson Bennett IV. Georgia had just held national title favorite Alabama to a close game, showing little weakness as it was eventually outlasted by the powerhouse Crimson Tide’s endless waves of five-star weapons. Florida had just played its first excellent game of the season, against Mizzou.

Perhaps the Bulldogs’ minds were on their state’s too close to call election results, or perhaps the Florida really have it in them to contend for a College Football Playoff spot, but the Gators flipped the script on Georgia with a resounding victory in the world’s greatest outdoor cocktail party.

Trask looks like a bonafide Heisman front runner after scoring 28 points with his arm and only a pick-six holding him back from a 200 QBR in the Georgia game. Tight end Kyle Pitts is going to be an all-pro for someone’s NFL team someday. Other weapons like wideout Kadarius Toney and running back Dameon Pierce are stars in their own right. The same defense that failed to get a single stop against Kellen Mond and Texas A&M completely shut down one of the best teams in the country after a lackluster first quarter.

Florida football earned back the right to control its own destiny in the SEC. With the defeat of Georgia, winning out a very manageable schedule will land the Gators in the conference title game, likely against Alabama. The toughest test on the schedule might be Tennessee or even this week’s tilt against Arkansas, an unthinkable concept at the start of the season with LSU completely losing its way. For this Florida team, prospects have gone from the sky crashing down to sky’s the limit.

The Gators take to the field Saturday at 7 p.m. ET looking to keep the good times rolling against Arkansas, though the conference’s halfway point coach of the year Sam Pittman will not be on the sideline as he tested positive for the coronavirus.

Photo courtesy of FloridaGators.com