Even during a pandemic, three conference games are enough to learn a team’s identity.
The No. 4 Gators identity? An unstoppable offense that’s good enough to beat anyone with an uninspiring defense that will allow any team to hang around.
Saturday’s 41-38 loss at No. 21 Texas A&M only reinforced what we already knew through two games about a Florida that watched its College Football Playoff rise with every Kyle Trask pass and fall with every missed tackle and third-down failure.
“We knew we had a very powerful offense,” linebacker James Houston said. “We can be in high-scoring matches and come out with the win.”
UF (2-1) has allowed more than 540 yards of offense only twice since 2015. Once was in the opener at Ole Miss, and the other was Saturday against Jimbo Fisher’s Aggies (2-1). According to ESPN, the 100 points the Gators have allowed so far is their worst three-game stretch since 1917.
This week’s fatal flaws were evident in the previous two weeks. By UF’s count, seven of Ole Miss' eight explosive plays were over the middle. So was A&M’s biggest play Saturday.
With less than five minutes to go, Kellen Mond lobbed a 51-yard bomb downfield to Caleb Chapman, who beat Marco Wilson to tie it at 38 with 4:30 left. Chapman entered Saturday with six career catches; he had nine for 151 yards and two touchdowns against UF.
Last week, the Gators struggled to contain South Carolina running back Kevin Harris early and couldn’t get a stop late. This time, UF let Isaiah Spiller rush for 174 yards and allowed the Aggies to convert on 12 of their 15 third downs.
“We’ve got to get off the field, we’ve got to wrap up, we’ve got to tackle and we’ve got to get to the quarterback, and we’ve got to cover,” defensive end Jeremiah Moon said. “It’s simple, and we’re not doing that right now.”
And as a result, they’re failing an offense that can only be stopped by itself.
Kyle Trask threw another four touchdown passes during a 312-yard day. Tight end Kyle Pitts had one of those scores to break UF’s tight-end record with 13 career touchdown catches.
UF only punted once all day and has scored a touchdown on 16 of its 30 drives this season.
“That’s our goal every time we’re on the field is to score every time we have the ball,” Trask said. “There was a couple drives that we didn’t do that and it was just little things and lack of execution, and if we do those, then we don’t even have to worry about defense.”
If perfection is the expectation and the necessity, UF fell just short with one critical mistake.
After Chapman’s tying score, the Gators had a chance to retake the lead while draining the clock. Instead, Jesuit High alumnus Malik Davis fumbled on the drive’s third play. The Aggies recovered just past midfield, setting up Seth Small’s game-winning 26-yard field goal at the buzzer.
As Fisher celebrated his biggest win since leaving Florida State with one game left in the 2017 regular season, Mullen was searching for answers he doesn’t yet have.
“We’re going to reevaluate a lot of things defensively, where we’re at right now,” coach Dan Mullen said. “We’re going to evaluate some things with our personnel, where we’re at.”
And through three weeks, where they’re at is obvious: In the top half of the SEC East with an offense that can score on anyone and a defense that keeps letting them down.
• Dan Mullen’s comments on the crowd noise and size underscore an issue in college football and the rest of the sports world. While it’s understandable that different states have different rules on stadium capacities, it’s unfortunate that leagues can allow them to become competitive advantages for any team.
• Kadarius Toney continues to develop as an every-down receiver. His seven-catch, 92-yard, two-touchdown day gave him three consecutive games with at least five receptions; he only had one such game in his career before this season.
• At times, Texas A&M had the lack of discipline that became a hallmark of Jimbo Fisher’s final season at Florida State. The Aggies committed four personal foul/unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, and Bobby Brown was injured while celebrating a sack with a teammate.