From the outside looking in, most of us have really only noticed and talked about the QB situation in Gainesville. And while it's obviously the top storyline for the Gators, I talked with Topher Adams of Alligator Army to get an insider view of everything about the Florida football team:
1) Obviously, the Gators lost a LOT of talent from their 2020 squad that lit up Alabama in the SEC championship. What was the general expectations and optimism/pessimism from the fan base coming into 2021?
Florida fans, at least that I’ve seen, have been pretty realistic heading into 2021. Replacing the significant talent from last year’s record-setting offense won’t be easy, and most fans expect the Gators will be in that second tier of college football, right around that 10-2 mark.
2) FAU and South Florida aren’t exactly murderers row opponents... But they aren’t chump FCS squads or anything either. Do you feel like you have a good idea for what this year’s Florida team will be after 2 games?
I have a gut feeling FAU might be a sneaky good win by season’s end, but even after two weeks, we don’t really know how good Florida is yet. The margin for error against even a decent Group of Five team is so much wider than elite teams like Alabama, who Florida expects to compete against every year. Turnovers haven’t been punished, missed reads haven’t been punished, and neither front has been legitimately tested. Florida seems like a good team, but this weekend will confirm or deny that belief.
3) Ok.. quarterbacks. You have 2 of them. Who are we going to see against Alabama? Who’s going to play the season? And who do you WANT to see playing, if that’s different?
Ah, Dan Mullen’s least favorite question. Assuming Anthony Richardson’s healthy, which seems to be the case, both he and Emory Jones will play, with Jones getting the start and likely most of the reps. Despite the fact that Richardson has basically looked like the second coming of Cam Newton and Jones has four, should be five, awful interceptions, Mullen is backing down from his system this year. With that being said, I and most of the fanbase wants to see Richardson at least get an opportunity to start. The offense just looks better and more explosive with him in there.
4) Tell us about your new receiving options. Any new breakout stars budding? Anyone showing a command as to be the main target?
Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney, and Trevon Grimes are all gone, but the receiving cupboard isn’t barren. Former five-star recruit Jacob Copeland, who said this week he was VERY close to going to Alabama, is the top guy this season and delivered last week with 175 yards and two touchdowns. Sophomore Xzavier Henderson looks good through two weeks and also returns punts on special teams.
5) Where’s the strength of this Florida defense? And if the whole game comes down to them needing to make a stop against Alabama, will that unit make the difference?
The best player on the team is cornerback Kaiir Elam, but the best unit on the team is the front seven. Defensive end Zachary Carter looks like an All-American with three sacks through two games, Brenton Cox was elite last year and is a dangerous edge rusher, and the interior is filled with big, physical playmakers, most notably Gervon Dexter. It looks like senior captain Ventrell Miller is out for a while, leaving a serious hole at linebacker, but Mohamoud Diabate and converted edge rusher Jeremiah Moon have looked fantastic in the early going.
This group hasn’t played a team as physical as Alabama, but the Tide won’t play a front seven as good as Florida’s in the regular season. As long as they don’t get too aggressive and the linebackers don’t get caught with play action, my biggest fear for Saturday, the Gators can make things happen up front — though truth be told the secondary is so rough it might not matter.
6) Any true freshmen breaking into the rotation that we might see this week?
The one true freshman who’ll get real minutes against Alabama is Jason Marshall at cornerback. He was the second ranked corner in the country last year and is the heir apparent to Elam, but he’s made a few freshman mistakes already. He’ll likely see time on the opposite corner alongside Avery Helm.
7) How do you see the rest of Florida’s season playing out after this?
Nobody really expects Florida to win this game, especially in week three, so the Gators will be in a good spot regardless of Saturday’s result. I have faith this team is good enough to beat most of the SEC East so, like always, it comes down to the Georgia game. Florida has a shot to win that game and make it back to Atlanta, but realistically 10-2 with a New Year’s Six bowl game is the expectation.
8) What has to happen for this to be a successful season? And if the Gators fall short of that, how secure is Dan Mullen’s job?
This season would have to completely implode for Mullen to be on the hot seat. Everything he’s done with the program the last four years has been great. As long as he can win 9-10 games and hopefully look competitive against Alabama and Georgia, he’s fine.
Some fans are increasingly frustrated that Florida isn’t on the same level as Alabama and consistently a national title challenger, but Florida’s close and only a very small section of fans want a change.
9) Finally, what will it take for Florida to pull off the upset this weekend?
If Florida wins the turnover battle, they have a shot. I’m not convinced the talent gap is as overwhelming as some think, so if the Gators can limit mistakes and not just gift points to Alabama, they should be competitive.
The offensive line also has to play exceptionally well. If Florida can’t establish a run game, it’s over. The passing attack looked better against USF, but it’s nowhere near 2020. If the Tide stops the run, they stop the upset.