Behind the brilliant Kyles and Kadarius Toney, Florida's offense wakes up the Fun N Gun echoes on opening day
A Florida offense that made great strides in the program’s first 2 seasons under Dan Mullen looked elite Saturday in the season opener at Ole Miss. The Gators blitzed Ole Miss for 51 points on their way to a convincing 51-35 victory in Oxford.
In the first half alone, the Gators piled up 28 points and 337 yards, averaging 8.4 yards per play with an impressive 63% success rate. Florida showcased the offense’s newfound balance in the process, as a rushing offense that finished last season in the 100s in college football grinded out 98 first-half yards at a 6.9 yard per carry clip.
On the game, the Gators numbers were even better: 642 yards (a Florida season-opener record and most in any SEC game), 8.7 yards per play and a success rate of 65%. For perspective, LSU’s 2019 offensive success rate for the season was 59.6%, a nation-best number.
At the heart of Florida’s offensive efficiency? None other than senior quarterback Kyle Trask, who looked the part of a preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback. Trask completed 30-of-42 passes for 416 yards and 6 touchdowns. The 6 touchdowns tied some guy named Joe Burrow for the most thrown by a SEC quarterback in a conference opener (Burrow’s number vs. Vanderbilt a season ago) and Trask’s 9.9 yards per attempt were a career-high. Trask also showcased his arm strength, a trait many analysts wondered about, slinging multiple dimes for back-shoulder touchdown passes and tossing multiple downfield strikes on seam routes.
Kyle Pitts is a cheat code.
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 26, 2020
The Gators, at least on opening day, also answered lingering offseason questions about how they would replace a splendid quartet of wide receivers who all found their way to NFL rosters this autumn. After two jittery drops on the opening possession, Florida saw 6 receivers catch targets in the first half, a testament to its depth at the position.
This is a credit to Trask, who makes secondary reads young quarterbacks struggle with look simple. But two Gators in particular led the way– one very much expected and the other very much an encouraging development.
Kyle Pitts showed why he was a consensus preseason All-American Saturday.
The Kyles hooked up 8 times for 140 yards and a staggering 4 touchdowns, including this backbreaking 71-yarder on Florida’s first possession of the second half.
KYLE PITTS. TE1.
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 26, 2020
Put simply, Kyle Pitts is a problem, and plenty of football teams are going to resort to double teams and simply interfering with him to slow him down. The Rebels tried that, collecting interference and holding penalties — and it still didn’t matter much. Fair or not, Gators fans expect elite production from Pitts, the junior in-name-only who is undoubtedly spending his last season playing for a scholarship and stipend. They won’t get a 4-touchdown performance every time out, but he’s going to consistently be a headache for opposing coordinators.
The other big story, and the one that was most encouraging for Gators fans Saturday was the play of senior Kadarius Toney.
Toney has always been something of an enigma.
On the one hand, he’s the first Gators playmaker since Percy Harvin to average over a first down per touch in consecutive seasons (minimum 20 touches). On the other hand, Mullen has long suggested that Toney’s inability to grasp larger playbook concepts and run cleaner routes has limited the extent to which he’s been used.
In fall camp, Dan Mullen praised Toney’s growth.
“It’s night and day, the way he’s matured and grown, his understanding of the offense,” Mullen told the media earlier this month. “He has a chance to be very special for us.”
Saturday, Toney was special.
First, he squirmed his way through a small hole and broke a tackle on a 50-yard jaunt that set up a Florida touchdown. But we’ve seen Toney the Houdini before.
What we haven’t seen, and we saw with the game still tight in the first half, was Toney the route runner.
This route from Kadarius Toney 🔥 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Bbsez8akNC
— 🎃Trev-Or-Treat 👻 (@TampaBayTre) September 26, 2020
That’s an area of development the coaches praised and we saw why Saturday. Toney was able to get open on multiple routes, including the filthy crossing route above, helping the Gators pick up vital first downs and extend drives.
In the process, Toney became the first player in college football this season with 40 yards rushing and receiving in one half. The senior out of Eight Mile, Ala., finished the game with 7 touches for 114 yards, with his 5 receptions more than he managed in a game in the entire 2019 season.
That’s a big deal, because if Toney is going to be a consistent threat to defenses on the perimeter, Florida’s talented trio of Pitts, Jacob Copeland and Trevon Grimes are all going to be able to be much more effective.
There will be plenty of time, in the days ahead, to show consternation about a Florida defense that didn’t tackle well and continued to look vulnerable in the downfield passing game. Outside of Marco Wilson, it’s hard to identify a player in the secondary that played a quality football game. Indeed, at one point in the second half, Ole Miss sophomore Matt Corral had connected on 14-of-16 passes. Corral, who struggled mightily as a freshman in the SEC, lit up the Gators’ defense for 395 yards and 3 touchdowns, keeping the Rebels within striking distance much of the afternoon.
But the worry about the defense can wait for Monday.
The story Saturday was Mullen’s Florida offense waking up the Fun N Gun echoes that won the Gators so many championships and made Florida football so much fun in the 1990s. Florida hit 40 points before the end of the third quarter and by the end of the afternoon, it looked as if the only way to stop this Florida team was to hope they committed self-inflicted errors, such as the poor choice to throw under pressure into coverage by Emory Jones on an early interception.
The offensive line asserted its authority, the running backs ran hard late, the Kyles looked unstoppable and Toney finally looked like the complete football player Mullen always thought he could be.
It’s one game in a season that will be a 10-game grind in a way we’ve never seen before.
There will be tougher Saturdays ahead.
But on a cool September afternoon in Oxford, Miss., Florida looked like old Florida again. Fast, frightening, fun and ready to compete for a championship.