It’s the most interesting SEC matchup of Week 1, with the possible exception of Kentucky-Auburn. The Florida Gators’ visit to a low-key Grove in Oxford – with a subdued atmosphere due to reduced fans on hand – is a fascinating matchup for many reasons, the main one being that Lane Kiffin gets to face the Gators once again.
By Matt Zemek
Kiffin’s one previous season as an SEC head coach put him against Urban Meyer in 2009. The pregame jousting between Kiffin and Meyer as Tennessee visited Florida gained headline-level attention in the Deep South. Kiffin lost to Meyer, but the Vols covered the spread against Florida, which made Kiffin unusually happy. He didn’t care about winning; he cared about getting other under people’s skin in the SEC.
Now, 11 years later, Kiffin returns to a head coaching position in the SEC. He isn’t foreign to the conference, of course. His many years as Nick Saban’s assistant at Alabama taught him a lot. The real question is if Kiffin has learned how to be a head coach at this level. Florida would like to take care of him the way it did in 2009. Let’s look at the keys for Florida on Saturday.
1 – Contain the quarterback
Matt Corral and John Rhys Plumlee might both play at quarterback for Ole Miss. Kiffin did not publicly commit to a quarterback, leaving it an open question as to how he will juggle the position. What is clear, though, from 2019, is that neither Corral nor Plumlee are elite passers. They like to run and do not want to be in a confined pocket.
So, Florida knows what it has to do: Confine them in the pocket and shut off their running lanes. The Gators have to make these quarterbacks beat them through the air. It’s doubtful they can do so.
2 – Kyle Trask should focus on the basics
Florida fans want to have a great quarterback once again. The Gators rose to prominence under Shane Matthews and Danny Wuerffel. They returned to greatness under Tim Tebow. When Florida has another elite passer, it should be able to rule the SEC once again. The problem is that Kyle Trask – while he might want to become a great quarterback – hasn’t yet merited such status. He could become a great quarterback this season, but he can’t try to be the hero, certainly not in Week 1. Make the simple play, make the correct read, help the defense win the game. Don’t overextend. That is Trask’s task against Ole Miss.
3 – Pandemic patience
In a first game within the pandemic, following an offseason lacking normal preparation, good teams could get caught off balance. Florida’s 2019 season opener against Miami followed a normal offseason, and yet that game was atrocious. It could be a challenge to play a relatively clean and simple game, so Florida has to make sure it doesn’t commit the huge mistakes which could give Ole Miss a chance. Pandemic patience is definitely a priority on Saturday.
Saturday‘s game kicks off at 11:00 AM CT (12:00 PM ET). Watch on the ESPN Network.