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Oklahoma Football vs. Florida - Cotton Bowl Q&A with Alligator Army: Kyle Trask, the depleted roster, the defense and more!

In this week’s opponent Q&A, Andy Hutchins of Alligator Army discusses Florida entering the Cotton Bowl.

SEC Championship - Alabama v Florida Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With the Oklahoma Sooners set to face the Florida Gators in this evening’s Cotton Bowl, Andy Hutchins of SB Nation’s Alligator Army drops by to give us his thoughts on OU’s opponent. He discusses quarterback Kyle Trask, the Florida defense, Gainesville and more!

With Kadarius Toney, Trevon Grimes and Kyle Pitts electing to opt out of the Cotton Bowl, who amongst Kyle Trask’s targets should we expect to pick up some of the slack on Wednesday?

Well, it would’ve been Jacob Copeland prior to his announcement that positive COVID-19 tests ruled him out of the game, but there are somehow still players who could step up behind that top quartet. I think Xzavier Henderson probably blends both talent and experience at wideout, though there’s also greatest-receiver-of-all-time Trent Whittemore coming back from injury to help him out. Fifth-year senior Rick Wells — whose existence on Florida’s roster was close to a running joke before this season — is also liable to get more targets.

But I think the solution Dan Mullen will go with is probably diversifying the offense to allocate more targets to backup tight ends Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer and running backs Malik Davis and Nay’Quan Wright, something not that different from how Florida’s offense looked in the second half against Georgia, after an injury knocked Pitts out of the game and while Toney was being bottled up. (Florida, uh, did not exactly score at will in that second half.)

Speaking of Trask, what aspects of his game has he developed most since taking over as the starter in 2019? What are his limitations?

For me, Trask’s two standout qualities are patience and touch, and they’re 1A and 1B; he used to be a little more skittish in the pocket, but now he brings a calm to nearly every dropback that allows him to wait for (and manipulate defenses into permitting) open receivers, and he’s also figured out how to modulate his throws pretty beautifully up to about 25 or 30 yards such that his receivers will always have chances to make plays.

That’s a much better adaptation to his limited arm strength — it’s adequate and helped considerably by his touch and understanding, but Trask is also just better when not trying to throw frozen ropes — and his lack of mobility that what could have ultimately become of him. (Square peg Florida quarterbacks reducing themselves to bits while trying to fit round holes are not few in recent memory.)

With Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis and Nay’Quan Wright being the primary contributors at the running back position, what does each bring to the table?

Pierce is the power back, Davis is the shifty back (and best receiver), and Wright combines aspects of both of his upperclassman brethren. Florida generally rotates them by drive rather than situation, which bothers some and has been painful in a few instances, but it’s also fair to say that none of the three has been routinely game-changing, especially behind an offensive line that struggles with run blocking.

Florida’s defense hasn’t been quite as formidable as it has in years past, but how much of that has to do with the changing nature of offenses in the SEC? Or has it simply been a down year from a personnel standpoint?

It’s both, though I’m probably in the minority in the Florida fan base in thinking it’s more about the SEC shedding a lot of its backwards schemes and installing better offensive coaches. This Gators defense doesn’t have as much depth anywhere as it had in the first two years under Todd Grantham, which is hurting a fair bit, but it’s also got the problem of having its best young players lacking experience and old hands that coaches trust — especially in a year with abbreviated and disrupted installation schedules — not being very good. Grantham is either on his way out or about to be on a seat so hot that Chernobyl inspectors would worry, but while he rightly takes a lot of the blame for this defense being as porous as it is, it’s not all on him.

Speaking of the defense, which name should Oklahoma fans know entering Wednesday’s game?

The player most likely to wreck shop is probably Brenton Cox, who is quick and active off the edge but struggles to consistently turn what looks like violent pass rush into actual havoc; if he’s a full step faster than an Oklahoma tackle rather than a half-step faster, watch out.

The player most likely to be exploited by the Sooners is safety Donovan Stiner, a long-time starter who inspires a lot more derision than devotion from Florida fans. He’s made plays in his career, but few of them this year, and he simply isn’t an SEC-caliber athlete nor a player who thinks quickly enough to compensate for that.

What’s the worst thing about Tallahassee?

Despite Gainesville’s push to have every chain restaurant that exists in the United States, Tallahassee still has a slightly better assortment of fast food joints, which is something that brings shame to a long-time denizen of a college town and avid consumer of fast food.

Greatest musician/artist to come out of Gainesville – Tom Petty, Stephen Stills or the field?

It’s Petty and it’s not particularly close right now; he’s probably closer to Springsteen or Dylan among the great American songwriters than most of the Gainesville field is to him. But I think Laura Jane Grace of Against Me! has a fine discography to date and is likely to age into a legendary figure if she wants to continue writing and releasing music.

What’s your favorite bar in Gainesville?

I am, for better and worse, not much of a bar person, but I’ve never been one for Gainesville’s assortment of dives. The new Midtown Social is a nice place to have a drink, but definitely represents a gentrification of the college experience that I’m not sure I like.

Favorite restaurant in Gainesville?

For now and for always, it’s Satchel’s, a pizza place that gets the “quirky” tag from people who don’t know how to say “proud to be weird.” It’s a great spot for lunch with a friend or dinner with a date or even for a group gathering, and its commitment to its employees and the community is as or more important than the very good food. Anyone who says Satchel’s is overrated because its standard pizza is merely good and not revelatory should order the deep dish and a salad to split with good company; if that doesn’t change a mind, the mind just isn’t open to the specific appeal.

What’s the most underrated city or town in the state of Florida?

I think most of Florida’s cities and towns are pretty properly rated, and even as a Floridian descended from turn-of-the-century homesteaders, I don’t have a lot of pride in what’s been built on these stolen swamps. But if I exempt Gainesville from this question, I guess I do have a fondness for Palatka that stems largely from getting pusalows at the diner — Angel’s — run out of an old railroad car that touts itself as Florida’s oldest.

How do you see this game playing out? Considering the absences on UF’s end, how do you like the Gators’ chances?

I think there will be many points scored, and that Florida will probably get 30 or more of them ... but I also think this defense is liable to give up 40 if the Spencer Rattler from the second half of the season makes the trip to JerryWorld. And while I’d be pretty confident in Florida being near level pegging with at least one of Pitts or Toney available, not having either means that an offense that has been keyed by one or both all year is going to look a lot different — probably not for the better.