Updated: Oct 3
Pitts is a splendid player, probably the best on the team. Mullen has known it for a while. His teammates have seen it for a year in practice. The media and fans weren’t seeing those practices.
There have been some major adjustments in semi-quarantine for the past seven months and, to be honest, I haven’t missed the travel or commuting. One trip I am going to miss this week, however, will be my annual Ocala-Gainesville trek up US Routes 441/301 to the place I first knew over a half-century ago only as Florida Field. Coverage of Gator football being limited this season, I drew the short straw. So I’ll just have to count on my colleague Kassidy Hill to keep my seat warm until later this year or 2021.
Enroute to Florida Field, which has since gained two more names, most Gator fans experience the wonderful swole-up anticipation of autumn that buoys the spirits behind the wheel, often exaggerated, like sugar-plums dancing in your head. It harkens me back to the days when spoils such as SEC championships were considered a luxury and could only be dreamt of, like that sugar-plum, because until 1991 it had been only that.
There’s been a pause in max celebrations for about a decade, until recently when Dan Mullen came off the plane chomping. He said he expects to win, which he has done 22 times out of 27, and expects to be held accountable for fixing the offense. On that latter count, last Saturday the dinner bell began to chime again. Was it Gator football rejuvenated, or was it Memorex?
Given that it’s been a long drink of water between titles, this hiccup of a football season may turn out to be a much-needed dose of joy. And on Harvest Moon weekend, if the Gators repeat their offensive blast from the win over Ole Miss and can send Will Muschamp packing back to Columbia with an “L,” it would set up a 2-0 start down a road that soon includes LSU’s visit in two weeks. And as the nation’s No. 3 team, Florida can at least start knocking at the door of Alabama and Clemson. Perhaps a little premature to break out with the song “Happy Days Are Here Again.” (Note to self, avoid the sugar high of sugar plums right here.)
Mullen had brought game and talent and tutelage to the proud program once guided by the Hall of Fame likes of Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. He’s not in their class – yet, if ever -- but is like-minded and boasts a little of their DNA.
Mullen apparently loves to go Unicorn Hunting. No weapons needed – but it’s a weapons search. Just find a freak athlete and bag him. Problem is, Unicorns are rare and they don’t always graze in the same pastures. You might find one in South Florida, or South Texas – or even in South Philly. The latter is closer to where they found Kyle Pitts.
It has been suggested by friends and associates that I should pump the brakes on my nomination of Pitts to the Hall of Fame after only one game in 2020. Matter of fact, in my weekly “Best Fridays in Football Podcast with Urban Meyer,” as I was extolling the magnificent display of Pitts’ talents in his four-touchdown performance vs. Ole Miss, I could sense Coach Meyer’s disdain in his voice about my sophomoric overreaction, as "Buddy – I saw the highlights.”
These tired old eyes have seen most of the great players who ever came through Hogtown. Pitts may be one of those generational players – or at least will be by the time he finishes and becomes the first tight end drafted by the NFL. But like Urban suggested, perhaps I should take a beat. I am not here just to extoll the virtues of Pitts’ considerable talent, but to forecast his ascent. That’s what true visionaries do.
However, before I back down here, let me point out that maybe we should not be so quick to dismiss Pitts’ performance as just good or ordinary. After all, how many times have you ever heard of a so-called tight end catching FOUR touchdown passes in single game? Nobody I know had. The NFL has had a couple. Kellen Winslow once caught five and Mike Ditka four -- of the ones I can remember. Only Hall of Famers and perhaps the two greatest tight ends in history need apply.
Four TD receptions in a game have only been accomplished three times in Florida football history—Jack Jackson 1994 vs. NM State; Ike Hilliard 1995 vs Tennessee; Kyle Pitts 2020 vs. Ole Miss
So I went to the record book and found out that one player from North Texas State actually caught five. Marcell Barbee of Texas State and Joshua Moore of Texas were the
other two besides Pitts. Must be something in that water in the Lone Star State.
How does Urban Meyer think teams will try and defend vs. Pitts? Check out our Best Friday's in Football:
For a guy 6-7, 240, Kyle Pitts can motor, seen here vs. Bulldogs. GatorBait Photo
1. Jaelon Darden N. Texas State (5)
2. Marcell Barbee, Texas State (4)
Joshua Moore, Texas (4)
Kyle Pitts, Florida (4)
Greatness often comes in pairs. And if I were are ever going to use that adjective next to Kyle Pitts’ name, it would be because of the other half of that dynamic duo which I call K2K. You know – Ruth & Gehrig, Stockton & Malone, Spurrier & Casey, Reaves & Alvarez, Wuerffel & Doering, Hilliard or Anthony, etc. Trask & Pitts? Right now that might sound absurdly premature. But Trask & Pitts are formidable and greatness could ensue. A championship season later perhaps.
The skill set and tools are there for Pitts.
“He’s got the size, so when DBs are on him, a lot of times, he can go over the top of DBs,” said Mullen. “He can run away from backers. He’s got tremendous athletic ability to go catch the ball, and as I think everybody saw, he’s really developed much better as a blocker this offseason. When you combine those things defensively, who do you put on him?”
Pitts is a splendid player, probably the best on the team. Mullen has known it for a while. His teammates have seen it for a year in practice. The media and fans weren’t seeing those practices. Pitt was the most dashing receiver last season, but the outrageous combined consistency of seniors Jefferson, Cleveland, Swain & Hammond (together they sound like dead presidents) overshadowed his brilliance. Now that the training wheels have come off Trask, I expect to see an even more productive and exciting K2K.
It hasn’t escaped my notice that teams will be gunning for Pitts and that he’s going to draw a ton of double-coverage, plus jamming at the line and, when all else fails, hooking and tugging of the jersey. The astute members of the Talk Show brigade feel that we’ll never see him in the end zone four times a game again (@PodUp with Matthews, Shane Matthews). I get it – defenses adjust.
I even asked Urban Meyer this week why Pitts is so hard to cover. Aside from the mismatches, Urban said when you are going up against a skilled athlete like he had in Cornelius Ingram or Aaron Hernandez, “you are asking your fourth best defensive guy to cover an elite athlete.”
Mullen talked about the “Matchup Nightmare” that the 6-7, 240 pound junior Pitts creates. “Do you have a 6-foot-4, 240-pound linebacker than can run with him? Or do you have a 6-3 1/2, 220 safety that’s physical as he is at the point of attack?”
The Gator Coach thinks South Carolina’s defense will use length and size.
“They have some length out there. They have some long corners and big safeties. They’re probably going to have some athletes that they can match up with him. They’re big men and play a lot of man coverage, so you’ll have some one-on-one matchups, so it’s about creating the best match-up we can.”
Why is Pitts so hard to cover, what strengths does he bring to the game?
“I think, one, when you look that he is a tight end. But if you go look at that, it is about the mismatches. I mean, he’s got the size, so when DBs are on him, a lot of times, he can go over the top of DBs. He can run away from backers. He’s got tremendous athletic ability to go catch the ball, and as I think everybody saw, he’s really developed much better as a blocker this offseason. When you combine those things defensively, who do you put on him? You know what I mean. He’s kind of a unicorn, right? So unless you have a unicorn on defense to match the unicorn on offense … There’s not a lot of them out there. They’re very, very rare to ever see. Do you have a 6-foot-4, 240-pound linebacker than can run with him? Or do you have a 6-3 1/2, 220 safety that’s physical as he is at the point of attack. So that’s really what makes him a mismatch.”
Of course there is the flip side: Take away Pitts and get beat by Grimes or Toney or Copeland or Whittemore – or a running back like Davis or Pierce.
“It's a very scary offense,” Trevon Grimes said. “You kind of have to pick your poison. There's more to come.”
Well worth the trip to The Swamp on a gorgeous October Saturday. Hopefully before the season ends, those of us shut out this time will draw a little longer straw.