J.R. Reed insisted he hasn’t been dreaming about the Florida offense and the challenge it presents.
But given the depth and talent all over the field for the Gators, it would be perfectly understandable if the senior safety had a few sleepless nights.
“I don’t know how to better say it than to say that (Florida head coach Dan Mullen) has a complete offensive package right now with what he has,” head coach Kirby Smart said.
Indeed, the stats reveal that the Gators, who have struggled offensively at times in recent years, have weapons at every position across the offense.
At running back, the duo of Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce shoulder the load. The pair has combined for 708 yards and seven touchdowns over Florida’s eight games. Dual-threat backup quarterback Emory Jones has chipped in another 116 yards on the ground.
Smart said a physical and bruising ground game has been a hallmark of Mullen’s offenses dating back to his days at Mississippi State. No matter how the game is going, the Florida head man makes sure to honor his commitment to the run.
But the true strength of this offense lies in its playmakers on the perimeter.
The Gators have an extremely talented corps of wideouts, and there’s plenty of them — seven receivers and tight ends have hauled in double digit receptions. This doesn’t even factor in the explosive Kadarius Toney, who will likely play against Georgia after missing all but two games this season with injury.
“Fortunate for us they can’t have but three or four of them on the field, but they put them in locations, they move them around,” Smart said. “(Mullen) does a good job creating matchup issues across the field. At the end of the day you have to cover people and play them, you can’t trick them.”
More receivers means more substitutions for Florida, meaning the Gators can rotate on the outside without much of a talent dropoff.
Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes said the team has to embrace that challenge in the leadup to the game. Personally, he said he’s doing extra running in order to ensure his conditioning is in good shape.
Perhaps the biggest matchup nightmare of all is 6-foot-6, 239 pound tight end Kyle Pitts. The sophomore leads the Gators with 35 receptions and 391 yards, and he’s tied for the team lead with four touchdowns.
Smart said Georgia went after Pitts hard in recruiting before he eventually chose Florida. Now, the player Smart referred to as “50 percent wideout, 50 percent tight end” poses a big problem literally and figuratively for the Bulldog defenders.
“I think he has the most targets probably in the whole nation for a tight end,” linebacker Monty Rice said. “In order for them to win, they’ll have to get him the ball. He’s able to make plays. We’re just going to have to play our coverages and do what we’re supposed to do.”
All these weapons are meaningless without a distributor to get them the ball. Luckily for Florida, it has just that in quarterback Kyle Trask.
The redshirt junior entered against Kentucky with the Gators trailing 21-10 and led a second-half rally for the win. During the course of the season, Trask has completed over 67% of his passes for 1,391 yards and 14 touchdowns to just four interceptions.
“He brings value to the rest of their team because of his ability to throw the ball,” Smart said. “He makes them harder to defend because all of their weapons are — their best, best players, their weapons are perimeter players. And you look at what he’s done, he makes you defend all 53 yards.”
As the low interception totals suggest, one of Trask’s best qualities is his ability to take care of the football. As Rice put it, “he doesn’t make a lot of boneheaded mistakes” and puts the ball where his receivers have a chance to make a play.
“Him being at quarterback made that team better this year,” Rice said.
Trask is also a weapon in the ground game, as he adds the dimension of being able to run the ball in short-yardage and goal line situations when the defense has its attention focused elsewhere.
With this plethora of dangerous players on offense, Florida presents the strongest challenge the Georgia defense has faced to date. Every level of the defense will need to perform if the Bulldogs expect to leave Jacksonville with a win.
“Everything is going to be important because you have to say the front is important to affect the quarterback,” Smart said. “The front’s got to control the run game. You have to be able to pressure the quarterback and affect him, but every time you do that you’ve got to be able to cover on the back.”
But with this challenge comes opportunity.
The Bulldogs have a chance to prove that they are truly one of the nation’s elite defenses against one of college football’s deepest and most talented offenses. Reed may not have been dreaming about the Gators specifically, but he and the rest of the defense have been anticipating this chance.
“You’re going to find out how good the defense is,” Reed said. “We’re going to be tested. These are the games you dream about, playing against teams like this. This is why you come to the SEC, to face teams like this.”