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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Scouting the Florida Gators for the Cotton Bowl

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Florida QB Kyle Trask is as good as advertised, but he’ll be without his four primary targets.

NCAA Football: Florida at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY

When the slate of bowl games was announced less than 10 days ago, the matchup in the Cotton Bowl between the Oklahoma Sooners and Florida Gators looked like one of the season’s top offerings. Aside from the big brand names, the teams boast two of the most dangerous offenses in the country. The Sooners would also have a chance to showcase their reinvigorated defense on a national stage.

Needless to say, a deluge of opt-outs by Florida stars has taken plenty of shine off the matchup. The three leading receivers for the Gators – Kadarius Taylor, Kyle Pitts and Trevon Grimes – all decided to sit out. Sophomore Jacob Copeland, the team’s fourth-leading receiver, tested positive for Covid-19, so UF will be without his services as well. On the other side of the ball, defensive back Marco “Random Task” Wilson is skipping the game.

It’s hard to know what to expect from a team missing so many key contributors, especially in an exhibition game. Let’s give it a shot anyway.

The Florida offense: Yes, Kyle Trask is very good

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama at Florida Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

*Florida coach Dan Mullen channeled his inner Mike Leach this year, skewing the Gators offense heavily to the pass over the run. UF threw the ball on 57% of all plays, a far cry from Mullen’s first season with the team in 2018 when the Gators ran the ball 59% of the time.

Mullen’s preference for airing it out makes sense when you consider the personnel at his disposal. At full strength, Florida probably had the best cadre of receivers in the nation. Plenty of coaches would look like geniuses if “just throw the ball to Kyle Pitts” set up as the default option in their offenses.

*The good news for the Gators is that Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask will still be in action on Wednesday night. (So far as we know.)

The senior quarterback put up ungodly statistics this year, including 43 touchdowns passes against five interceptions in 11 games. Trask gave two of his best performances in Florida’s high-profile matchups with the Alabama Crimson Tide and Georgia Bulldogs, throwing for a combined 882 yards and seven TDs in the two contests.

Trask’s physical tools won’t overwhelm anyone, but he shows superb touch and ball placement on his throws. Arguably his greatest strength is his ability to manipulate coverages with his eyes, setting up opportunities for his receivers to do their damage on opposing defenses. Additionally, Trask moves very well inside the pocket, which he seems to prefer to rolling out and improvising. The end product is a passing game that excels in the short and intermediate.

Trask won’t have his usual assortment of offensive weapons available, but it would be a mistake to assume he can’t make good with what remains. He is undoubtedly the best QB the Sooners will see this year.

*Even with Pitts (6-6, 246 pounds) and Grimes (6-4, 218) out of commission, Florida’s physical receivers will still pose major challenges for OU’s diminutive secondary. Sophomore Justin Shorter, for example, is 6-5 and weighs 225 pounds. Freshman Xzavier Henderson is 6-4.

Those two can’t match the production of their missing teammates. The physical disparities relative to OU defensive backs like Jaden Davis and Brendan Radley-Hiles are there all the same.

*If Trask decides to sit out, UF will turn to Emory Jones at QB. Jones has essentially played wildcat QB for the Gators this year. Ironically, that could throw a wrench in OU’s game plan.

Defense: Todd Grantham’s swan song?

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Florida Gainesville Sun-USA TODAY NETWORK

*Todd Grantham has served as Dan Mullen’s defensive coordinator for four years, dating back to Mullen’s tenure at Mississippi State. The relationship between the two showed signs of fraying this year as the Gators took a major step back on that Grantham’s side of the ball. Notably, Mullen mulled chewed out his defensive coordinator on the sideline in the middle of UF’s 34-10 defeat of Kentucky in late November. It was the clearest indication yet that Grantham might be exiting Gainesville.

*You can understand Mullen’s frustration when you survey the wreckage on the field this year. In losses to Texas A&M, LSU and Alabama, the Gators surrendered an average of 43 points. UF ranked 69th nationally in defensive yards per play at 5.7. Overall, the unit slid from seventh in the country in SP+ last season to 31st in 2020.

To be sure, Florida wasn’t heinous in any one particular facet throughout the year. The Gators generally ranked right around the middle of the SEC in most major statistical categories. They did a few things more than adequately, including stopping teams from breaking off big gains on the ground.

*You can find plenty of talented individual pieces on the Florida D. The edge players for the Gators stand out, in particular. Sophomore outside linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. and junior defensive end Zachary Carter led the squad with 9.5 tackles for loss apiece. The duo also combined for nine sacks on the season.

*Nice individual pieces don’t necessarily add up to a strong overall unit, though. Honestly, a big offensive outburst could be in store for the Sooners on Wednesday night.