Although spring football practice is on hold due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19 and the current global pandemic, the Georgia football rosters are still set for the fall. Coming off a 12-2 season, the Bulldogs head into the 2020 season with high expectations. Bulldawg Illustrated is analyzing each opponent in a twelve part series that will continue for the next several weeks.
Following Georgia’s matchup with Missouri, Georgia will have a bye week before heading to Jacksonville to take on the Florida Gators in the annual rivalry game. This game is set to take place on Oct. 31, 2020, and the outcome of this game is likely to decide who will represent the SEC East in Atlanta for the SEC Championship game.
Head Coach: Dan Mullen
2019 Record: 11-2, 6-2 SEC; Beat Virginia in the Orange Bowl
Key Returnees: quarterbacks Kyle Trask and Emory Jones, running back Daemon Piece, wide receivers Trevon Grimes and Jacob Copeland, tight end Kyle Pitts, defensive ends Zachary Carter and Brenton Cox, linebackers Ventrell Miller and Amari Burney, safety Shawn Davis, cornerback Marco Wilson.
Key Losses: running back Lamical Perine, wide receivers Van Jefferson, Josh Hammond and Freddie Swan, defensive end Jonathan Greenard, linebacker David Reese II, cornerback C.J. Henderson.
1) Possible QB Competition?
In many regards, Florida quarterback Kyle Trask is the best returning starter in the SEC next season after the departures of Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow and Jake Fromm. Trask had a very good 2019 campaign where he appeared in 12 games, starting 10 of them. Even though Trask seems like the clear starter, backup dual-threat Emory Jones could give him a run for his money. Either way, the two are a different style of quarterbacks.
Trask took over under center when Feleipe Franks went down with a season-ending injury against Kentucky. Trask led the Gators to an 11-2 record, and had a very productive season. He completed 237 of 354 attempts for 2,941 yards, and 25 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Trask also rushed for four touchdowns as well. He finished second behind Burrow in the SEC for passing yards, and third overall for touchdowns.
On the other hand, Emory Jones will push for the starting job and has proven he can be a valuable asset in Mullen’s offense. Last year, Jones completed 25 of 38 passes for 267 yards and 3 touchdowns last season. Out of high school, he was the No. 5 dual threat in the country, and the No. 11 player in the state of Georgia in 2018, per 247 Sports. Jones displayed that dual-threat ability last season as he rushed the ball 42 times for 256 yards and four scores.
During Mullen’s first press conference this spring, he was asked several times about how Trask is handling himself in the offseason after his performance last year.
“Seems to have handled it well,” Mullen said. “I know he’s got a couple of other guys in the room that expect to start next year. He better push himself and continue to work every day and compete at the highest of levels so he can remain in that position. I think our guys now going into a couple years (of our program) know how guys handled last season much better in their preparation — knowing what to expect and knowing how to prepare going into an offseason.”
According to Mullen, every spring he prepares each of his quarterbacks as if they are the starter. That obviously paid off well for Trask last season behind Franks, and it could help prepare Jones immensely for this upcoming fall.
“I think at this point, those guys are looking at, ‘Hey, I’m trying to win the starting job.’ I think the guys understand what we do and one of the things that makes us develop the quarterbacks well is how we handle the rotations and all the opportunities that everyone gets,” Mullen added. “Everybody basically gets to be the starter going through spring… as far as spring ball, I think they understand what they are getting into and as far as the offseason goes, they understand these are things I need to do to put my myself, if I want to be the starter, things are the things I need to do to be the starter.”
2) Questions at Running Back
Even though Florida has two healthy quarterbacks, probably the biggest question surrounding the offense is who will take over for leading rushing Lamical Perine at the running back position. There will be many eyes on the depth chart of Florida’s run game this spring because of their disappointing rushing offense in 2019.
Perine rushed the ball 132 times for 676 yards and six touchdowns last season. He also hauled in 40 receptions for 262 yards and five scores. Daemon Pierce is the likely name to take over the top spot on the depth chart for Perine. Pierce ran the ball 54 times for 305 yards and four scores last season, and also caught four passes for 30 yards in 2019. The Bainbridge (GA) native stepped over Malik Davis on the depth last season, and should have the edge going into fall camp.
Another name to watch is Miami Hurricanes transfer Lorenzo Lingard. The former five-star recruit didn’t get to tap into his full potential at Miami because he couldn’t stay healthy. Lingard suffered a knee injury during his freshman campaign that kept him out for the rest of the season, and in his sophomore year he redshirted after only appearing in two games. Shortly after the season ended he decided to enter the transfer portal. During his short time in Miami, Lingard rushed for 136 yards and two touchdowns.
Since arriving in Gainesville, Lingard has apparently taken a complete 180 and is ready to climb the depth chart. He is a 6-0, 200 pound back that has the vision and agility to compete in the SEC, but is waiting on a waiver from the NCAA to be able to compete immediately.
On National Signing Day, Mullen said the waiver process has been started for Lingard, and that he thinks that he should be cleared to play.
With Lingard’s waiver process still up in the air, that leaves redshirt junior Malik Davis still in the mix. After a disappointing 2019 season, Davis seems ready to prove he can be the spark the Gators offense needs on the ground in 2020. Davis had an impressive freshman season in 2017, but tore his ACL that year and broke his foot just three games into the 2018 season. After his return last year, Davis seemed off and that was evident whenever he touched the ball. At times he seemed hesitant to burst outside the tackles, and that caused him to fall down the depth chart. Maybe can shake that off in the offseason, and work with running backs coach Greg Knox to return to what he once was.
Iverson Clement and Nay’Quan Wright are the two other backs on the depth chart. Both have limited experience, but could get an opportunity with the uncertainty at the position heading into 2020.
NOTE: Georgia’s defense held Florida to -1 rushing yards last year as a team in the Bulldogs 24-17 win.
3) Talented Pass Catchers
The Gators will have to replace Van Jefferson, Freddie Swan and Tyrie Cleveland, who were three of their top five receivers in terms of yardage. Last season, the trio combined for over 1,500 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns. Florida also loses wide receiver Joshua Hammond, who hauled in 27 receptions for 346 yards and two scores.
Losing these four guys is unfortunate, but the team does return several key threats who have shown they have the ability to make plays. First, there is tight end Kyle Pitts, who finished second on the team in receiving yards and tied for third in touchdowns. Pitts had 54 receptions for for 649 yards and five touchdowns in 2019. Next, is Trevon Grimes, who hauled in 33 passes for 491 yards and three scores. Grimes will definitely be the deep threat next year because of his size and speed.
But you can’t forget about Jacob Copeland and Kadarius Toney. Both combined for 50 receptions for 456 yards and three scores last season. More than likely, Copeland should line up as a split end, and Toney at flanker. These two give quarterback Kyle Trask more options than just Pitts and Grimes as primary targets.
Though these four are solid, if you climb down the depth chart, Florida will need some other guys to step up. Wide receiver Rick Wells and tight end Lucas Krull are two names to watch in 2020. Expect Mullen to also get the running backs involved in the passing game as well.
4) Turnover on the Defensive Line
Last season, Florida had one of the best defensive lines in the SEC led by Jabari Zuniga, Jonathan Greenard and Adam Schuler II. Greenard was third on the team finishing with 53 total tackles, adding 16.0 tackles for loss with 10.0 sacks. Zuniga and Schuler were both two brutalizing forces on the weak side. Having these three gone will create some turnover, but the Gators do return some promising faces.
Zachary Carter had a decent 2019 season finishing with 29 total tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. Carter is probably going to be slotted as the top strong-side defensive end. Carter is listed at 6’4, 263 pounds, but is believed to have gained some weight on the offseason. He is very explosive off the edge and has tremendous cross-chop pass rush moves to consistently get into the backfield.
Former five-star recruit and Georgia Bulldog Brenton Cox will finally get his chance to climb the depth chart in 2020 after sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules. Cox’s versatility should fit well into defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s system. While at Georgia, Cox record 13 total tackles and one sack as a freshman in 2018.
Andrew Chatfield and Tedarrell Slaton are two guys that could lineup alongside the other two as well. Entering his redshirt sophomore season, Chatfield could possibly see more snaps after playing 71 downs in 2019, but with several defensive lineman signed in the 2020 recruiting class, his window of opportunity could be closing. Slaton was on the field for 265 snaps last season, and could lineup mainly at nose tackle in 2020. His size gives him advantage over others as he recorded 29 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss. two sacks and 12 quarterback pressures last season.
Marlon Dunlap Jr. is another player who will see playing time after returning from a season ending injury last year against South Carolina. Dunlap posted 1.5 sacks and 10 quarterback pressures across 137 snaps during his short 2019 campaign. Beyond that, that is where Florida’s depth chart at defensive line drops off. Lamar Goods enrolled early and worked out with the team before the pandemic, but his value is yet unknown.
Besides the turnover on the defensive line, Florida returns several key pieces to the defense. Despite losing leading tackler David Reese II, second leading tackler and linebacker Ventrell Miller returns after racking up 55 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks in 2019. Linebacker Amari Burney is also coming back, and is a player with a lot of experience.
In the secondary, cornerback C.J. Henderson has decided to leave, but his counterpart Marco Wilson, has decided to stay. Wilson will be a top the depth chart at the position, but players like Kalir Elam, Trey Dean III and Jaydon Hill are names to watch. The Gators also gain a few others from the 2020 recruiting class as well.
Safety Shawn Davis will the big name at his position next year. Accounting for 55 tackles, along with three interceptions and three passes defended, Davis definitely played a significant role in the Gators’ success last season. Brad Stewart Jr. and Donovan Stiner also possess the ability to make plays.
5) Finally Getting Over the Hump
As good as Florida has been over the past two seasons under Mullen, they have yet to get over the hump of finishing first in the SEC East, and beat Georgia in the process.
After Florida’s 24-17 loss last season, a reporter asked Mullen “How close do you think Florida is to reaching Georgia’s level as a program?”
“Seven points,” Mullen replied. Then, the reporter followed up by asking if he uses the game as a measuring stick of where his program is in comparison to Georgia. Mullen shrugged and said, “Seven points away from Georgia.”
Towards the end of the 2019 season, the Gators looked like a much improved team. In their first contest against Miami, they struggled to beat a Hurricanes team that didn’t have a reliable quarterback. They also struggled to beat a Kentucky team on the road, but that was when Trask took over. The team started to gain ground when they beat a very good Auburn team at home. The following week they played eventual national champion LSU only to lose as the Tigers pulled away in the second half.
Entering the game against Georgia, Mullen’s squad was firing on all cylinders until coming up flat as a team against the Bulldogs. Even though their performance was discouraging, they only lost by seven points. Credit Florida though for keeping it closer than it should have been.
Regardless, Mullen has the program headed in the right direction. His players seem to have bought in, and he has done a great job at developing players to compete at a high level in the SEC. Don’t doubt that the number one thing Mullen has on his list of goals for next season is to beat Kirby Smart.
Early Prediction: Georgia wins 31-17