…What do you do now?
First, you celebrate, because if you’re Dan Mullen, you’ve just beaten a team that has bested you every year of your tenure thus far.
On top of that, you’ve defeated your toughest opponent on the road to the SEC Championship.
Then, you get back to work.
There is certainly lots to be proud of for the Gators, but even so, the road ahead spans many more miles before Mullen and company finally reach that SEC Championship they’ve been chasing for so long. While there is plenty of good to talk about in a 16-point victory against what is perhaps UF’s biggest rival, Florida still has some issues to address across the board if it wants to make noise at the end of the season.
So, you have a record-breaking offense…
…How long can you lean on it?
It’s no secret that quarterback Kyle Trask has been a menace this season. He’s thrown four touchdown passes in five straight games (an SEC record) and, after the win on Saturday, finds himself squarely in the Heisman conversation.
In addition to Trask, running back Dameon Pierce tacked on another touchdown Saturday evening, proving that Florida’s scoring potential expands beyond its ability to pass. For a half of football, the Gators’ offense looked truly dominant as it has shown the potential to be throughout the course of the season.
But none of those touchdown passes from Trask or that rushing touchdown from Pierce happened in the second half. In fact, Florida managed just six points in the second half thanks to the foot of Evan McPherson (though it would have been nine had he not missed one). This stagnating offense allowed Georgia multiple chances to catch up to UF in the third and fourth quarters of the game, and if the Bulldogs’ offense hadn’t been so anemic, it might have come back to bite them.
That was uncharacteristic of this Florida team. Prior to this game, UF averaged 20.5 points in the second half, but this contest alone brought that average down to 17.6. A probable contributor is the absence of tight end Kyle Pitts after a particularly nasty hit in the second quarter. Tight end Kemore Gamble stepped up for a TD a few plays after, but the absence of who many consider to be the best tight end in the nation could be a factor in why the offense was so slow out of the gates in the second half.
“At the end of the day we came out, I feel like we executed on what our coaches told us to do,” receiver Trevon Grimes said after the game. “A lot of it was the time management and getting the ball in the right spots. And, you know, at the end of the day things work out and things don't, but we came out with a win.”
Championship-caliber teams have to be able to keep the same pace through four quarters. The offense should be proud of what it accomplished in the first half, but in Grimes’ own words, things may not work out for much longer if the team begins struggling to put games away.
So, your defense is improving…
…How long will it continue to do so?
Last week, Florida’s defense had a stellar game against Missouri. This week, after a particularly rough patch where the Gators found themselves down 14-0 in the first quarter, the defense answered by not only giving up as many points for the remaining three quarters, but netting three interceptions to boot.
“It was something going into the game that we said we were going to do, and we did it,” cornerback Kaiir Elam said after the game. “Our goal was to get three, and we accomplished it. So it was real big."
For the second week in a row, the same defense that struggled at the beginning of the year turned in a very good performance, though its competition may have had something to do with it.
Georgia’s quarterback play prior to meeting Florida hadn’t been stellar. Before this game, starting quarterback Stetson Bennett had seven touchdowns to five interceptions and 878 total passing yards. D’Wan Mathis, who came in as relief for Bennett after he finished the game 5 for 17, hadn’t dazzled in his only appearance before this game against Arkansas, either.
Credit is earned where credit is due, though. Georgia is notoriously a run-first team, but it didn’t have a running back that rushed over seven times on Saturday (Zamir White was a 100-yard rusher, but that’s mostly due to the fact that his first rush was a 75-yard touchdown). UGA only had a single rushing touchdown on the day, and that is certainly due to the effort of the defense forcing the Bulldogs to move away from their strength and start to throw the ball toward the end of the game.
It seems as if defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s unit has found its groove at least to some degree, and UF’s next few opponents — Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Tennessee — aren’t exactly known for their electrifying offenses. If Florida continues its trend of strong defensive play, it can look forward to a potential SEC Championship bid at the end of the year.
That possible momentum from the end of the regular season could be key. Because a team like Alabama will absolutely have an electrifying offense, and they are very likely to be who UF meets in the SEC Championship, should they make it. And if the Gators want to beat a team like that, they will need to make sure the defense of games past doesn’t rear its head again this year.
Contact River Wells at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @riverhwells.
Gators quarterback Kyle Trask daps up linebacker Andrew Chatfield Jr. at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 7. Florida beat Georgia for the first time since 2016 on Saturday 44-28.