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Florida vs. Georgia, Takeaways: Differences at the helms

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Florida beat Georgia because of offense and quarterback play. In other words? Advantage, Dan Mullen.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Trask had his legendary day

Chris: I asked if Kyle Trask could have his moment, and he absolutely delivered. What more could you ask from the star quarterback?

474 passing yards on an almost 70 percent completion percentage with four touchdowns is the superstar “Heisman moment” game I wanted out of the senior, even if there was a pick-six mixed in with all the good. Trask was not phased by the elite Georgia defense, as he spread the ball just like he has all season, finding 10 different receivers — all of whom had catches for more than 10 yards — and putting his playmakers in a position to dominate. His teammates made plays, his coaches drew up a near-perfect game plan, and Trask delivered.

And, yeah, it was a poor throw that was picked off and returned for a touchdown early. Yeah, Trask nearly threw a few more late in the fourth quarter. But he was about as good as a quarterback can be over a stretch that demanded greatness, and had an unbelievable game overall.

This was his defining game as a Florida Gator and a performance that will be remembered forever — unless he tops it.

Georgia lost this game in the offseason as much as on Saturday

Andy: In this year’s World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, Florida started a borderline three-star quarterback that wasn’t even recruited by its current coaching staff and saw that player throw for 474 yards and four touchdowns while leading the Gators to 44 points against a defense so laden with talent that significant injuries still didn’t prevent it from being a blue-chip unit. It did not miss the four-star QB who transferred out this past offseason, and it deployed the four-star QB waiting in the wings to take over for its current starter.

Georgia started a former preferred walk-on who is now a scholarship quarterback after transferring out and then back, saw him be largely ineffective on both sides of a shoulder injury, then inserted a four-star quarterback whom the Dawgs plucked from Big Ten country and saw him be even less effective. QBs Georgia did not have or play include: The three-year starter with a year of eligibility remaining who left for the NFL and went in the fifth round to a team with an established starter; the No. 2 overall prospect from the 2018 class it lost via transfer under an ugly cloud of reported racist remarks; the ACC veteran who transferred in last offseason and garnered substantial Heisman hype only to opt out prior to the season beginning; or the top-flight former USC QB whose presence as a purported dark-horse candidate to be Georgia’s signal-caller this year.

On the field, this game was decided by Trask being excellent and Stetson Bennett and D’Wan Mathis not even scraping adequate. Off the field, this game was decided by the coaches whose decisions led to those being the quarterbacks on the field — and so it was truly won and lost many moons before the moon itself appeared in the Jacksonville sky.

Dan Mullen is the trump card when it comes to Florida-Georgia

Andy: After a month-plus of making headlines with a variety of actions whose distance from those of an average college football coach was sometimes debatable, Dan Mullen got the ultimate unfair tag from one particular columnist, who damningly dubbed him the Donald Trump of college football.

As far as Mullen’s distractingly weird public statements, mostly sound and fury, go? It wasn’t that bad a comparison.

But Dan Mullen is good at his job. Maybe even great.

Saturday proved that again, as a quarterback he inherited and improved ran an offense that he has remade and revitalized, running a top-five team with a top-flight defense all but off the field in the process. Two years after a 36-17 loss to Georgia that wasn’t that close and a year after a 24-17 loss to Georgia that wasn’t that close, Mullen’s Gators scored more than they had in the previous two years combined despite not having any of the six skill position players from the 2018 Florida offense who have since been drafted into the NFL.

Largely, that’s because Mullen’s assistant coaches — less renowned for their recruiting acumen, more respected for their understanding of Mullen’s system and development of players within it — have improved the players Florida has on hand while stocking the pipeline with backups who could be better still.

Florida’s offensive line was notably excellent on Saturday, yielding one sack to a Georgia defense that had 17 in five games coming in, but that also had plenty to do with Trask’s quick progressions. Pitts is an astonishing talent, but Florida’s ability to go five wide and utterly destroy Georgia underneath its coverage had tons to do with Florida suddenly having multiple running backs that can be trusted to catch passes and multiple tight ends other than its all-everything stud to deploy when an awful hit sends that leader to the sideline.

And if Mullen and his assistants — many of whom still count as “embattled” if you listen primarily to the hue and cry of the fan base — are doing this three years into the annual matchup where they have been playing catch-up, what happens when the Gators have rosters closer to those coaches’ ideal personnel?

Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson aren’t Kyle Trask — per high school recruiting prognostication, they’re supposed to be better, and their athletic talents certainly seem to fit Mullen’s schemes better. The next Kadarius Toney might need fewer than four full years of seasoning to become a terrific wideout rather than just a weapon. Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis, and Nay’Quan Wright all seem like excellent fits for the Mullen offense as it exists in 2020 — but Lorenzo Lingard and Demarkcus Bowman are so talented they were considered fits for any offense.

If Mullen can run wheel routes to lethal perfection with guys thought of as good but not game-changing prospects, he might be able to scheme up some effective plays for the players thought of as world-beaters — who, in turn, might increasingly see Mullen’s offense as the equal-opportunity awesomeness generator that it has largely been at full bore, and clamor to play in it accordingly.

The theory behind Florida hiring Dan Mullen from Mississippi State was always that he proved capable of recruiting adequately enough for his exemplary quarterback development and offensive game-planning for Mississippi State to become an unlikely SEC West power, and that applying that same formula at Florida, a school with significantly more resources and richer recruiting opportunities, would lead to greater success.

Two and a half years in, that prospect appears to be Florida’s reality. And while the guy responsible for making Florida great again might have run his mouth in some irresponsible ways in recent weeks, it’s hard to argue with the results he’s returning.

Kyle Pitts makes this team unstoppable, and an injury would be devastating

Chris: While it was decidedly Trask’s game, his partner in crime Kyle Pitts was equally impressive. On two catches, Pitts showed the unbelievable ability that has made him one of the best players in all of college football, mossing a pair of Bulldog defenders for 59 yards and a world-class touchdown.

His impact was felt outside of receptions as well. Georgia’s game plan was so focused on containing Pitts that it opened up Justin Shorter for a pair of catches, including freeing the Penn State transfer for the Gator’s first touchdown of the game.

But Pitts’s game was cut short in the worst of ways: A vicious hit by Lewis Cine knocked out the star tight end in an absolutely brutal play. It looked really bad in real time and the damage done to both players is still unknown. And if Pitts is injured and misses time, it’s an enormous loss for this team.

Kemore Gamble made some nice plays (including a touchdown on a wheel route) in relief, but it’s clear that this is a different team without him. His ability to always be an option on a 50/50 ball and how he forces defenses to adjust is unparalleled and this team. If he’s not an option down the stretch, it’s an enormous loss.

Defense isn’t terrible, but still far from elite

Chris: Watching this Florida defense is a roller coaster of emotion. After the inspired performance against Missouri, my hopes were very high heading into the game Saturday. Then the first play went for a 75-yard touchdown, all of the promise shown against the Tigers was immediately erased, and it looked as if we were in for a very long night. Another quick touchdown following a Florida three and out and everything was bleak once again. It was only a matter of time before Georgia completely took control of the game.

But that never happened.

The defense buckled down and shut down the Bulldogs. The Georgia offense followed their second touchdown with six straight drives (not including an end-of-half kneel-out) without a score. Florida’s defense made plays and didn’t allow Georgia to ever build any real momentum.

However, this unit was not great. The lack of offense was not a testament to Todd Grantham’s defense, but an indictment on Todd Monken’s offense. There were countless opportunities for Georgia that could’ve completely changed this game with a better quarterback. Fortunately for the Gators, Bennett and Mathis are not very good and couldn’t take advantage of the mistakes. Fortunately, this week, it worked out.

But this defense still has a long way to go if Florida wants to be crowned SEC champions.