Florida vs. Oklahoma score, takeaways: Gators shamed in Cotton Bowl as 2020 ends with whimper

By Adam Silverstein
December 31, 2020
Florida vs. Oklahoma score, takeaways: Gators shamed in Cotton Bowl as 2020 ends with whimper
Football

Image Credit: GatorsFB / Twitter

It would have been unfathomable just one month ago to believe that the No. 7 Florida Gators would end the 2020 season with three straight losses, an 8-4 record and their worst bowl loss in 15 seasons. Alas, that is how Florida wrapped up the strangest season in college football history, falling 55-20 on Wednesday night to the No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners in the 2020 Cotton Bowl.

AT&T Stadium was once again an unfriendly venue for the Gators, who are now 0-2 in Arlington, Texas. Florida suffered its worst loss and gave up its most points in a single game since the 1996 Fiesta Bowl to end the 1995 season. It did so while largely fielding a depth chart that played sparingly this season, though that is no excuse for the total level of performance.

What went down Wednesday night as the Gators ended their 2020 season with a whimper? Keep on reading as we break down Florida vs. Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

1. The absences were a huge factor: Redshirt senior quarterback Kyle Trask easily had his worst game of the season, completing just 16 of 28 passes for 158 yards with three interceptions. It was his first career start with not touchdowns and/or three picks. Those turnovers all came in the first quarter, were thrown on consecutive series and included a pick six, which spotted Oklahoma a 17-0 lead. Trask finishes the season with eight interceptions, four of which were pick sixes. He threw away five in the last three games after giving up just three in the first nine games. However, while the pick six was certainly on Trask, the others were at least somewhat fluky due to a tip-drill pick and a batted ball that fluttered in the air.

Key to Trask’s struggles and the offense’s issues were the opt outs of the Gators’ top three offensive playmakers in junior tight end Kyle Pitts and senior wide receivers Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes. Redshirt sophomore WR Jacob Copeland, the No. 4 playmaker, was also out due to COVID-19. Their absences clearly affected the offense as their replacements, many of whom saw limited action or did not play at all previously this season, missed assignments and dropped nearly a dozen balls over the course of the game. (That is not an exaggeration.) UF started 4 of on third down but did not convert any of its last eight tries.

“You don’t just flip a switch … and end up in the end zone,” Trask said, noting that Florida had just three days of bowl practice. He also clarified that he was not making excuses for his play or that of the Gators but rather stating a fact that the offense did face significant adversity in the game.

It was clear that Trask was far less comfortable with those pass catchers than redshirt sophomore QB Emory Jones, who saw extensive action in the game and was more successful moving the ball when given the opportunity. Jones finished 8 of 16 passing for 86 yards but rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown in the most action he saw this season. Third-string freshman QB Anthony Richardson also led one drive and threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore WR Jordan Pouncey. (Richardson looked like the future of the program.)

The absences, by the way, were not only on the offensive side of the ball. Florida was missing numerous defensive starts at all three levels, including three linebackers, two defensive backs and two defensive lineman. Mullen said after the game that the Gators were below the minimums up front and in the secondary to play and only had 60 scholarship players but decided to press on.

“That wasn’t the 2020 football team you saw,” Mullen said. “There were about 25 guys missing from the 2020 football team out there tonight. That was kind of a kick-start for us [to 2021].”

2. More strange decisions create questions about Mullen: Regarding Mullen’s points regarding Florida’s roster, fair enough. The Gators coach does deserve a bit of slack considering how short-handed the program was entering this game. But that does not completely explain many of the confusing decisions Mullen made over the course of the Cotton Bowl. And for season-long readers of our takeaways, this is clearly becoming a trend. It’s a trend that often gets excused because the positives Mullen brings outweigh the negatives, but sometimes it is unavoidable.

In order … Down 17-0 in the first quarter and facing second-and-goal from the 6-yard line, Mullen had Trask run two keepers for 0 yards and then settled for a field goal on fourth down, for some reason giving up on the series. Down 11 late in the second quarter, Mullen chose to attempt an insane 58-yard field goal rather than punt to Oklahoma, giving the Sooners prime field position (40-yard line) they quickly capitalized on to score a touchdown before the half, taking an 18-point lead into the break. Despite Jones’ clear success running the offense, he strangely decided not to use him to open the second half; the small bit of offensive momentum Florida had finished with a pair of three-and-outs to open the third quarter. Mullen finally decided to go on fourth-and-3 in the fourth quarter near the goal line, but the play call was to telegraphed it never had a chance.

Of course, all of this pales in comparison to questions about the Gators defense and a decision Mullen will have to make this offseason.

3. The defense is truly horrendous: So much has been written in this space about defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and his unit this season that repeating it is simply wasting time. You know Florida’s defense is abhorrent, and it’s not surprise that it was even worse with so many players out of action. But to give up 55 points to this version of Oklahoma? No one expected that despite the personnel obstacles.

The Sooners rushed for a Cotton Bowl-record 435 yards against the Gators with star Rhamondre Stevenson rumbling for 186 and a touchdown on 18 carries. His backup, Marcus Major, totaled 110 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. In total, Oklahoma averaged 10.9 yards per rush. It nearly had as many rushing yards (435) as Florida had total offensive yards (521). By the way, let’s pause for a moment and realize the Gators had 521 yards of offense but only scored 20 points in the game. But I digress.

Most deflating for Florida was how Oklahoma compiled its 684 (!) yards of offense. It scored on a five-play drive to open the game and had touchdowns of 36 yards and 46 yards. The Sooners had other explosive plays of 73 yards, 50 yards and 47 yards. It’s one thing to be unable to stop long, sustained drives. It’s quite another to just be busted open the way the Gators were on Wednesday night.

Sophomore linebackers Khris Bogle (four solo tackles, a sack, a pass breakup and a forced fumble) and Mohamoud Diabate (three solo tackles, forced fumble) were true bright spots. Junior defensive back Trey Dean III (five solo tackles) was all over the place as well. So yes, there were a few positives defensively if you are looking ahead to the 2021 season, but it’s still a stretch.

The pressure will be on for Mullen to make the necessary decision regarding Grantham as he evaluates the program this offseason. Even when Florida’s defense was successful over the last two seasons, Grantham’s coaching style and aggressiveness led to far too many unnecessarily negative situations for the Gators. With so much talent leaving in the offseason, his scheme and coaching philosophy got completely exposed. Mullen is often loyal to a fault when it comes to assistants, but expecting the fanbase to accept a Grantham return in 2021 is hard to fathom.

4. The 2020 team will not be remembered as it should have been: With an all-time offense, a Heisman Trophy contending quarterback and insane playmaking talent, it looked like this would be Florida’s season to truly contend for a national championship in Year 3 under Mullen. Somehow, despite so much going wrong for the Gators — and candidly the world — in 2020, it was still there for the taking with one week left in the regular season.

“I would’ve loved to play the season we were supposed to play with the team we were supposed to have, but unfortunately with COVID, we were not able to do that,” Mullen said after the Cotton Bowl. He was first referring to Florida’s schedule, which saw the removal of “cupcake” opponents and insertion of two SEC games, one which UF lost. The Gators also lost their bye week to COVID-19 as they had to move the LSU game back to the open week. He was also referring to Florida’s roster, which was massively depleted early in the season and missed numerous pieces down the stretch, though it was mostly whole for the final month.

Despite those obstacles, which are fair to note, it must again be pointed out that a national championship was there for the taking if Florida was good enough and sound enough. In the end, it was not. The Gators unfathomably lost to LSU at home, somehow were still on the outskirts of the College Football Playoff, and then fought tooth-and-nail against Alabama in a respectable SEC Championship Game loss. All of this while Trask went from Heisman Trophy front-runner for nearly two months to afterthought despite still being a finalist because the program refused to campaign for him, Mullen did not put him in a position to boost his stats, and Trask floundered in the LSU game.

So while Florida’s 8-4 record is not indicative of the team it was for most of the season and could have been at the end, the fact of the matter is the Gators did lose their final three games. Even if you want to throw out the Cotton Bowl due to the roster issues, they lost their final two. National championship-caliber teams do not go 8-3 or 8-4, particularly without losing a major impact player like a quarterback. Yes, Florida faced many obstacles this season — plenty the same as other programs, a few worse — but it failed to overcome them. And in the end, that’s how the Gators will be remembered.

5. Odds and ends: Florida lost its first Cotton Bowl appearance and is now 24-22 all-time in bowl games … the Gators are now 1-1 all-time against the Sooners … Florida is now 5-6 against ranked opponents and 4-5 against top 10 teams under Mullen … the Gators have scored 163 offensive touchdowns in 38 games under Mullen compared to 93 in 38 games from 2015-17 … UF has scored in 410 consecutive games, an NCAA record

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