The Florida Gators will play in a New Year’s Six bowl for the second straight season, a solid achievement on the merits, and an even better feat in light of the fact that Feleipe Franks was injured early in the season.
By Matt Zemek
Getting 10 wins with Kyle Trask leading this offense for most of the season is an indication of how much Dan Mullen gets from the talent he has. The obvious problem – and shortcoming – with the Mullen era is that Mullen’s staff doesn’t recruit high-end talent well enough. Florida’s players simply aren’t as good as Georgia’s players. If UF could ever get to the point where its talent is as good as Georgia’s, Mullen could coach that talent better than Kirby Smart can coach his own players… but UF’s players aren’t at that standard just yet.
Enough about recruiting and the big picture. Let’s look at the upcoming Orange Bowl against the ACC Coastal Division champion Virginia Cavaliers. Florida is a two-touchdown favorite, which might seem reasonable on the surface, but doesn’t seem to account for the reality that Virginia will be very excited to play in this game. Can we say the same for Florida? This leads right into our first game key:
1 – Give a darn
Remember when Georgia played the Sugar Bowl against Texas last season? Georgia didn’t want to be there. People who live in regions other than the Deep South scoffed at the familiar line that “the SEC didn’t care,” but Georgia certainly played like a team which didn’t care about that Sugar Bowl. It is not a false claim to say that SEC teams often lack motivation in bowl games. The false claim is that the SEC teams deserve to be seen as better teams regardless of what happens in bowl games. Bowls are moments in which teams need to show they care about playing their best. It’s that simple. Does Florida care about playing its best, even though this is not the high-profile opponent the Gators wanted? (Notre Dame or Penn State would have gotten UF’s juices flowing for sure.)
Take this game seriously. Why? It’s the only game the Gators can play. They can’t play anyone else. Winning the Orange Bowl is better than losing it. Start there.
2 – Contain Bryce Perkins
Perkins is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback who torched Virginia Tech with his running skills. Preventing Perkins from busting loose as a runner is a bigger need for Florida than stopping him as a passer. UF should force Perkins to win this game with long passes against the Gator secondary. If Perkins doesn’t pop a single run of more than 20 yards, Florida should be in very, very good shape.
3 – The offensive line
Florida’s offensive line is a weak link. Virginia depends on its defense under head coach Bronco Mendenhall to wreak havoc in an opposing offense. If the Florida offensive line can merely play Virginia’s front seven to a draw, the Gators should have advantages elsewhere on the field to win this game without too much of a problem… but achieving that draw is far from guaranteed.