Can Florida Make Georgia Sweat Out The SEC East? Only Time Will Tell

Once the football season kicked off and we started to get a look at what some teams in the SEC might look like this season, one team caught the eye of many. The Florida Gators have come out of the gates storming, as they look to cause problems for Georgia in the East. Honestly, I thought the Gators would have trouble keeping up with teams on offense, with Emory Jones behind center. But that perspective has changed over the past two weeks.

It started with Alabama, as it’s hard to take much away from dominant victories over USF and FAU. But the surprising part in their wins have come from Jones, who has passed for 668 yards and rushed for 376 yards so far this season. The way he played against the Tide showed that the quarterback is growing up. He may not have thrown for a TD in that game, but his presence on the field caught me off guard. He looked like a QB who wasn’t worried about the backup QB looking over his shoulder. He rallied his team back in the game and helped establish a ground game that ran for 245 yards that day. By the way, the defense also held Alabama to under 100 yards rushing in the contest, giving the Gators enough opportunities to fight their way back.

Florida Gators head coach Dan Mullen on the field with players during timeout in the second quarter as the Florida Gators play the Virginia Cavaliers during the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium Monday, Dec. 30, 2019 in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Then you look at what he did against Tennessee, passing for 209 yards while rushing for 144 yards against a pretty decent front seven. His composure so far this season has stood out to me, even when his team had only a three point lead at halftime. It feels as though Jones is starting to gain more confidence in the pocket and with his legs, which could be dangerous for opposing teams. Dan Mullen complimented his QB following the win over the Vols.

“Yeah, I think you see him really settling down and understand,” Mullen said of Jones. “I thought he did a great job making his reads, managing the offense, getting us in the right checks, getting us into the right plays. You know, decision-making was pretty good in the pass game. And obviously, scrambling — I mean, look at it, what did he have, 15 carries? That’s probably a little much, but I think a bunch of ’em were scrambles, too, and him improvising. I don’t know if we called many direct quarterback runs in the game tonight”.

It should also be noted that the Gators have another QB who can beat teams with his legs and through the air. Anthony Richardson has been sidelined with a hamstring injury for the past few weeks, and even though they felt he could play if needed, Mullen didn’t have to worry about risking another injury. This will not be the case moving forward, as the head coach noted that it’s full speed ahead with Richardson, which will bring another weapon back into the fold for Florida.

“So we kind of met with the medical staff, went in with a plan, which was — again, we definitely think he’s cleared to play. You know, if we could get through this week with him in a backup role, he could be — we think it’s 100% moving forward. And so, I think we’re 100% now. I went with that. And we’re 100% not waiting for the MRI on next Friday. I mean, 100% starting on next Monday’s practice.”

Having a two-headed monster at QB has worked in the past for the Gators, so maybe they can make the Jones-Richardson combo play into their favor. It’s been a task so far this season to stop the Florida offense, especially with how the running game is playing out. The Gators have rushed for 528 yards in the past two games, against Alabama and Tennessee. So, Dan Mullen should know by now that his offensive schemes are working, especially working with two quarterbacks who can also sling it.

Now, how they play against Kentucky will be a deciding factor if this team has what it takes to play in Atlanta, come December. The defense could get some much needed help back this weekend, as Dan Mullen mentioned that CB Kaiir Elam could possibly return to the lineup against Kentucky.

“Hopefully Kaiir gets back healthy this week, add some depth to the secondary for us,” Mullen said.

What we are seeing out of this Florida team is a full buy-in from the players. It would’ve been very easy for the Gators to play tentatively on Saturday and keep it close with the Vols. But coming out of halftime, Florida outscored their opponent 21-0 and caused problems for the Tennessee passing attack, though some drop balls from the Vols surely helped.

The Gators were also without starting right guard Stewart Reese, and right tackle Jean Delance only played a few series against Tennessee. Kingsley Eguakun ended up exiting the game twice, but Dan Mullen said on Monday that it wasn’t serious. So, with the return of these three, which should help the offense, and the return of Kaiir Elam benefiting the slim secondary, the Gators should be close to full power against Kentucky.

Maybe, just maybe, we are getting the Florida team that you’d expect on a weekly basis, without the drama. If this team can take care of Kentucky on Saturday night, I think we might find ourselves looking at the showdown in Jacksonville as the semifinal game for the SEC East.

Only time will tell, but the Gators look to be up for the challenge, especially on offense. Maybe this year will come down to the “Cocktail Party,” or maybe Florida plays down to their opponent and we get the same results we’ve seen in the past.

I’d lean towards the first scenario.

Written by Trey Wallace

Wallace started covering the SEC in 2012, as the conference landscape was beginning to change. Prior to his time in Knoxville, Wallace worked in Nashville for The Read Optional, where he first produced content that garnered national attention. His passion for sports is evident in his work and has led him to break some of college football’s biggest stories. His social media reach and natural podcast proficiency continue to make Wallace one of SEC’s most trusted sources.

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