The conclusion of the Gators 2019 season was in South Florida Monday night. And there was coach Dan Mullen and team post-game holding up the bowl of oranges trophy for their 36-28 win over Virginia.
It finished a second straight 10 win season and a second straight “New Year’s Six” bowl victory. And, it was the final chapter of a season that began all the way back in August with the first meaningful game of the whole college football slate against the Miami Hurricanes.
And, to be very clear about all of this, the Gators’ game against the Hurricanes in Orlando on August 24th was a lot sloppier and far more ragged than their Orange Bowl win over the Cavaliers.
Let’s get that out of the way.
Let’s not mislead anyone into thinking that late August and late December produced equally flawed performances from Florida. That is not true.
That is not what this piece is trying to say. No game could have been as unwatchable as the Miami opener.
The Orange Bowl on Monday night in Miami Gardens was a masterpiece by comparison.
Yet, on August 24, it is expected that a team will play a messy, erratic, mistake-filled game. Only the most finely-calibrated machine filled with proven veteran players might avoid that particular sand trap in the dog days of summer… and even then, it is hardly a guarantee.
In a bowl game – with four weeks off – one would like to think that a team would be sharpened and polished to the point that every instinct is accurate and every player has a heightened sense of what to do and where to be
At times, Florida looked like that kind of team against Virginia, but there were plenty of other times when the Gators were still disorganized, still caught out of position, still unable to execute plays which should have been made.
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (above) was lucky Virginia did a poor job of hanging onto interceptions.
Florida’s secondary was lucky UVA quarterback Bryce Perkins lacked touch on his deep ball, a well-known concern for the Cavaliers heading into the Orange Bowl.
Virginia left a lot of points and opportunities on the field. It is true that Florida was a deserving winner because it pounced on more of its opportunities. It is true that UF converted a risky fourth down in its own half of the field in the fourth quarter, leading to a touchdown and a 33-21 lead. That touchdown represented the winning score in a 36-28 triumph.
Florida earned this win. Yet, it certainly received help in the process of winning by eight points as a two-touchdown favorite.
Imposing? Overwhelming? Dominant? Florida was none of those things.
The Gators were good enough, but not great. They did what they had to, and not much more.
This was the Miami game. This was the Auburn game. This was the identity of the 2019 Gators from start to finish. The awesomely powerful LSU Tigers and the kings of the SEC East, the Georgia Bulldogs, had the answers for Florida this season.
But again on Monday, no one else did.
Three state receivers look to make Senior Bowl impression
A trio of Florida collegiate pass catchers will look to make an impact at Saturday’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, and it’s very possible that one will be selected the opening night the NFL Draft in April.
First, the Gators have a duo of receivers working out for the South team in this week. As wideouts, Van Jefferson and Tyrie Cleveland have been going through practices and getting attention this week. Obviously, their experience against SEC competition is a key to helping them prepare to take on the North squad Saturday afternoon on the NFL Network.
Cleveland was a late add to the South roster only being notified on late Monday afternoon about the prospect of joining the senior All-Stars in Mobile.
And, as SI.com profiled earlier this week, both Florida guys are anxious to demonstrate what they can do and are grateful that they have each other in Alabama for the experience.
“I’ve seen Mr. Nagy (director of the Senior Bowl), and I heard him say something about Tyrie, so I was like, I was trying to creep in to see what he was talking about,” Jefferson admitted to the site.
“Then he looked at me and said ‘I invited your boy!’, and I asked who and he said ‘Tyrie!’, and so I went and called Tyrie, I’m like ‘Tyrie, where you at?’, and Tyrie’s already in Mobile, so my man, my dawg is here, so it’s just got the week much better, I’m excited to go out there and practice with him for the last time, play in a game with him for the last time, it’s exciting.”
Jefferson, who’s the son of former NFL receiver Shawn Jefferson, had two solid but not spectacular seasons in Gainesville after transferring from Ole Miss catching for just over 1,100 yards and 12 TDs in 23 games.
Likewise, Cleveland does not have fantastic numbers and some of that had to do with the shaky quarterback play at times during his career at Florida.
Still, they are both large bodied and Cleveland ran a sub 4.4 (unofficial), 40 yard dash this week, too.
Now, the probable first round pick from the state as a receiver is FAU tight end, Harrison Bryant. While he’s not a household name on the national scale, Bryant has outstanding hands and put up monster numbers for a tight end in 2019.
Flourishing and former coach Lane Kiffin’s system Bryant (above) led all tight ends in FBS with 65 catches, 1,004 yards and 7 TDs, as the FAU owls rolled to a second Conference USA championship in 3 years.
Bryant also has some raving about his route running, hands and his blocking from the practices this week in Mobile, too:
I watched this kid, Harrison Bryant that plays Tight End for FAU all day yesterday! He is very very good! I like everything about this kid from his route running, his catching ability and his physicality. Gotta be the 1st Tight End off the board. https://t.co/HwOzymrcMK
— Footwork_King 🤴🏾 (@footwork_king1) January 23, 2020
Sure, there will be a lot more time for scrutiny of these guys after the Senior Bowl is played from the scouting combine to their individual workouts and team interviews. Still, they are three names to keep an eye on Saturday and beyond, as the draft process continues.
Former Gators QB Franks transfers to Arkansas
Florida Gators quarterback Feleipe Franks has decided on a new spot for his final year of eligibility and he won’t even leave the SEC. The Gators starting quarterback on and off for the last three years announced on Monday night that he will be transferring to the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Franks help lead the Gators resurgence two years ago under first-year coach Dan Mullen, including a Peach Bowl New Year’s Six game victory over the Michigan Wolverines. Florida finished 10-3 with momentum headed into this season.
However, with sky high expectations for Franks, Mullen and the Gators this past season (they were a preseason top 10 team) Franks played inconsistently for a lot of the early part of the season. Then, things ended horrifically as Franks suffered a nasty fractured leg at Kentucky ending his season.
The 6’6 Franks finished his Gator career with 28 starts 4,500+ yards passing and 28 TDs. However, his at times poor play, including crucial interceptions enraged Gator fans. Next, he announced December 1st that he would be transferring for one more season, as a graduate to be eligible immediately.
Arkansas is in desperation to rebuild after having fired coach Chad Morris after two horrible seasons. They hired Georgia former offensive line coach Sam Pittman at their head coach and Franks will be playing for new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, who spent last season with FSU.
Arkansas is in desperate need of a quality proven quarterback, as they had just three scholarship signal caller options in senior Jack Lindsey, redshirt-sophomore John Stephen Jones and redshirt-freshman K.J. Jefferson. Jones, who is the grandson of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, is considered the most experienced of the group. But to show how bad it is, he’s thrown for just 106 yards and 2 touchdowns with 2 interceptions in six career games.
So, clearly Franks, if/when fully healed from the ankle fracture will be heavily counted on for 2020.
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