• Ainslie Lee

As Defensive Minded As He Is, Will Muschamp Is Weary Of Florida Gators Matchup Issues Ahead

Can the Gators replicate their offensive firepower for a second week? Photo Courtesy: SEC, Credit-Courtney Culbreath

The heads of DJ Durkin and Chris Partridge are still spinning.

No defensive coordinator simply forgets what it was like for his team to give up 642 yards in a game.

Surely, if you were to ask Will Muschamp about the last time he gave up that many yards, he’d remember.

On Nov. 25, 2018, Muschamp’s Gamecocks gave up 744, yes 744, yards to the Clemson Tigers, who went on to win the National Championship that year.

Gators fans know that Muschamp struggles to hide his frustrations. And that day was no different.

After all, Muschamp is a defensive-minded guy. Just as Dan Mullen specializes in offense, Muschamp specializes in defense.

But even the most experienced defensive brains look at the caliber of Florida’s current offense and pop another handful of Advil into their mouths.

So for a guy like Muschamp, how will he handle it? How will he handle the two-headed creature composed of two Kyles?

The two-headed creature composed of two Kyles is as scary as any tandem in the country for defenses.

Whether you call him a unicorn, a mismatch or the No. 1 tight end in the country, we can all agree that Kyle Pitts is a problem.

“Kyle Pitts is probably the best tight end in the country,” Muschamp said in his Tuesday press conference. “Certainly the best one we will see. Long, athletic, has speed, difficult matchup guy…has a very good knack of getting open, finding space…and Trask, obviously, they’ve got a good rapport as far as the throwing game is concerned.”

However, it isn’t something with which Muschamp is all that unfamiliar.

In a press conference earlier this week, Muschamp was asked about the similarities between Pitts and former Gators tight end Jordan Reed.

Reed, albeit three inches shorter than Pitts, was an “unbelievable athlete” who collected 79 passes in his career at Florida from 2009-12.

“They’re, I think, very similar,” Muschamp said in a media teleconference on Sunday evening.

“As a defense, if you’re calling defenses, you’ve got to account for where he is all the time. Dan does a good job of moving him around. He’s not in one spot all the time and you’ve got to make sure you don’t get in a bad matchup, and then sometimes that can limit you a little bit with what you can call. Because you like the call versus the team and the scheme, but then you don’t like the call versus No. 84.”

Last season, partially in thanks to a rainy day in Columbia, Pitts was held to just 29 yards on five receptions with a late touchdown.

However, in this 11-minute highlight from Florida’s showdown with the Gamecocks, you can see just how much Dan Mullen likes to move around his tight end.

By my count, on the plays in the video in which Pitts runs a route, he is out wide in two of them, in the slot for four of them and on the end twice.

By the looks of it, then-sophomore defensive back RJ Roderick was the primary guy in coverage against Pitts in 2019 -- more times than not out of zone defense.

However, the Gamecocks’ defensive scheme might be a bit in limbo after a couple of defenders got banged up against Tennessee in week one.

Junior defensive back Israel Mukuamu suffered a groin strain against the Volunteers on Saturday and has been listed as day-to-day by Muschamp. And on paper, Mukuamu is the best option to cover Pitts.

Stretching 6-foot-4, the lanky defensive back was a second-team All-SEC selection in 2019, and is regarded as a possible first-round draft pick in the 2021 draft.

Tre Grimes is another weapon Muschamp is preparing for. Photo Courtesy: SEC, Credit-Courtney Culbreath

In addition to Mukuamu’s potential absence, outside linebacker Sherrod Greene is set to miss four to six weeks after fracturing his hip against the Vols on Saturday.

Greene is another defender that would have likely seen snaps across from Florida’s No. 84.

While Roderick will be available on Saturday, at 6 feet tall, the junior safety doesn’t exactly size up well against a 6-foot-6 Kyle Pitts.

“He’s a great player, he’s as good a tight end as there is in the country,” Muschamp said. “He can win against DBs, he can win against corners, he can win against safeties.”

Despite it all, the former Florida head coach is quick to point out that the two Kyles aren’t the only concerns of his coming into Saturday’s showdown.

“They’re very balanced in what they do,” Muschamp said of Florida’s offense. “Dan is always gonna have balance as far as the run and pass game is concerned. There’s some very difficult matchups for you.

Muschamp calls Toney (1) a matchup issue. Photo Courtesy: SEC, Credit-Courtney Culbreath

“Obviously Pitts is a matchup issue… how you’re gonna handle him and they do a good job of moving him around. Kadarius Toney is a matchup issue. Grimes is a big guy that’s a physical receiver that can catch the 50/50 balls. There’s some skill issues that you've gotta deal with schematically, and then they’re a very experienced offensive line… and they’ve got good backs. Anytime you have really good skill people and you’ve got a good offensive line and you’ve got a guy that can pull the trigger and make good decisions, which Kyle does that, that does create some issues for you. Saturday they were really good. They really played well.”

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