OXFORD, MS.—As Dan Mullen and Lane Kiffin fist-bumped at mid-field (because, COVID), the first year Ole Miss coach turned and pointed towards the score board. It showed the final score as the Florida Gators (1-0) defeated the Ole Miss Rebels (0-1) by two touchdowns, 51-35. It also held the stats for the game, showing both teams with over 600 yards of offense.
“Lane said he thought, he hadn’t been in the SEC a couple years, he said he thought when he left it was a big defensive league,” laughed Mullen after the win.
"Both teams racked up 600 yards, [Lane’s] like, ‘what’s happened since I’ve been gone?’”
What happened was Florida returned nearly all of their offensive playmakers, save the four wide receivers who went on to the NFL. But in their place they kept Tre Grimes (3 receptions, 64 yards, 1 touchdown), Kadarius Toney (five receptions, 59 yards, 1 touchdown) and Kyle Pitts (eight receptions, 170 yards, four touchdowns).
It was a new day in the SEC. It was even slightly reminiscent of the Big-12 as the two teams put up not only the 1200 plus yards of offense, but 446 (UF) and 443 (OM) in the air respectively alone.
There was smoke rising from the field as the Gators and the Rebs raced up and down the field from opening kick.
Ole Miss took the ball first and went 52 yards downfield before turning the ball over on downs. But during the drive, Matt Corral (22/31—395—3—1) went looking deep for Dontario Drummond. Kaiir Elam broke up the pass only to see Shawn Davis fly in and lay a hit on Drummond. The safety was flagged for targeting and ejected from the game.
Not having Davis—along with Brad Stewart who was back home in Gainesville—proved to be a difference maker as the game would continue.
The Gators first offensive of the 2020 season was a handoff to Dameon Pierce. The junior running back took it nine yards with a head full of steam. A chain moving throws to Jacob Copeland and the Gators were near midfield. On 3rd and 8 from their own 48, Trask was flushed from the pocket. He scrambled out, double clutched to buy time and waited for Kyle Pitts to push off his defender as he came across the middle of the field.
The junior tight end stuck his hand out for the pass and Trask delivered. The 18-yard gain really got the wheels moving on a machine that was unstoppable on the cloud-covered day in Oxford. After getting to the 1-yard line, Trask dropped back off a play action and found Pitts who had wheeled into the endzone.
Florida went up 7-0 and they would never trail.
Ole Miss would answer however on the next drive, thanks largely to two plays over the middle; one for 28-yards that beat linebacker Amari Burney and the touchdown for 46-yards that scooted Drummond above Elam. With Davis and Stewart out, the center field became susceptible and Corral—the former Florida commit—found advantageous matchup’s there all day.
On one long pass in particular, corner Marco Wilson turned and threw his hands in shock tot he rest of his teammates, wondering how no one managed to pick up the receiver running free down the middle of the field.
“I think a lot of that, we've got to get a lot better at, to be honest with you,” said Mullen.
“We haven't hit a quarterback since the Orange Bowl last year. And you look at all the quarterback scrambles that went on today. In practice you're not allowed to touch the quarterback. The tackling, we've only tackled twice since the Orange Bowl last year so that's going to get better.
“And obviously give them credit…Lane does a really good job offensively of creating matchups out there on the field, so you give them credit for that, as well. We've just got to get cleaner and better for next week.”
There were seven defenders who were either playing in new positions for the first time, were playing for the first time since 2018 or were starting for the first time. Given the personnel, the strange offseason and the fact that Lane Kiffin will always put up yards*, it’s way too early to hit the panic mode on the defense.
*The last time a Florida defense gave up 600+ yards was to Alabama in 2014. The offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide that day? Lane Kiffin.
In the meantime, the Gators have an offense that looks capable of hanging with anyone and everyone.
Following the touchdown to tie the score at 7-all, the Gators got the ball at their own 18-yard line (in a series of events that gave spectators whiplash and included trading interceptions and Gervon Dexter picking off Matt Corral).
A handoff to Kadarius Toney saw the senior juke and cut and start his mesmerizing dance against defenders. Once he’d slipped through the scrum while staying on his feet, he turned on his burners to go 50-yards before corner Keidron Smith—who should try out for the Olympic track team—chased him down.
The next play, Trask patiently stood in the pocket, let senior receiver Tre Grimes push off his receiver at the pylon, and hit him high for the 14-7 score.
After punting for the one and only time of the day, Florida got the ball back again mid-way through the second quarter with the score tied at 14. A nine play drive moved 78-yards, thanks to two plays to Toney over the middle and into the redzone. It fittingly was capped with Toney coming across the back of the endzone, where Trask found him on a play call and execution that sung.
But halftime was bookended by Kyle Pitts. The tight end hauled in a back shoulder fade that rolled him into the endzone. On the second play of the second half, Trask (aided by a great block by Dameon Pierce) hit Pitts over the middle. The junior TE laid a stiff arm that is illegal in most states and raced 71-yards for the touchdown to make it 35-14.
A couple of Evan McPherson’s long kicks that were a walk in the park and one more touchdown to Kyle Pitts on the last offensive drive of the game, and the Gators were able to walk out of this shoot-out with a 51-35 win.
Pitts was double covered on that last touchdown. No one cared.
“I saw he was technically double covered but felt he had a great position to make a play on the ball. I just threw it up to him and let him do what he does best,” explained Trask.
Mullen, when asked if there was any 50/50 situation in which he didn’t trust Kyle Pitts said, “nope.”
Mullen’s crew set several records in the process. Kyle Trask threw four touchdowns in the first half, the most by a UF quarterback in a half since Will Grier threw for four, ironically, against Ole Miss in 2015. Trask threw for six touchdowns total, the most by a UF quarterback against an FBS opponent since Chris Leak threw for six against South Carolina in 2004. The school record is seven touchdowns, set by Terry Dean and Doug Johnson.
Trask also set a new career record with 416 yards. It's the most since Tim Tebow threw for 482 against Cincinnati in the 2010 Sugar Bowl and the most against a SEC opponent since Rex Grossman threw for 464 yards in 2001 at LSU.
Pitts became the third FBS tight end since the start of 1996 with 150-plus receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns in a game. His 170 receiving yards are the highest single-game total by a Gator since Demarcus Robinson’s 216 yards against Kentucky (Sept. 13, 2014).
Evan McPherson's 55-yard field goal is tied for 3rd longest in school history.
And this was the most yards for the Gators against a SEC opponent in Florida history. While Kiffin stood staring in amazement at the scoreboard, Mullen was hoping his neighbor was doing the same.
“I would expect, when I get home, my neighbor Coach Spurrier right around the corner right there, I should have a really nice bottle of wine sitting on my desk if I broke one of his records offensively. That’s at least deserving of a nice bottle of wine.”
It’s definitely deserving of some national recognition and maybe even a new team motto.
During the second half, one of the United States trending topics on Twitter was “Kyle To Kyle.”
“I love our quarterback performance,” said Pitts following the win.
“Me and Kyle, it’s just, it’s like a gel. We just work a lot together, and I feel like it shows…me and Kyle are always talking. Good friends, and ‘Kyle to Kyle’, we go around and jokingly say that.”
“That’s been said around here for a while,” laughed Trask.
“[Pitts] can do a lot of things. He's a matchup nightmare for defenses. He's too big for corners and too fast for linebackers, so he gives defenses a lot of trouble.”
And it’s making Dan Mullen look like the best play caller in the game.
“One thing that I know is, you’ve got great players you look really smart as a coach sometimes, so. You’ve got great players, you give them the opportunity to go make plays and we can look smart, and, you know, that’s what we did today.”
They looked smart, they looked efficient and they looked unstoppable. Even Lane Kiffin couldn’t help but shake his head. It’s a new day in. The SEC and it’s being led by the Florida Gators.