FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Virginia Cavaliers are on the precipice of history. Sitting at 9-4 they have an opportunity to win 10 games for just the second time in school history. Standing in the way of that are the Florida Gators and the Cavaliers know the task at hand.
Outside of Clemson, this will be the best offense Virginia has seen this season and that game didn’t go well. The undefeated reigning National Champions throttled Virginia 62-17.
“I think it was almost a reality check for us, where we needed to be and how to play an opponent like that, of that caliber,” defensive tackle Eli Hanback said. “Like I said, that’s a very good football team and they won the National Championship last year, they could compete and win another National Championship this year in a couple of days. I think it really just almost opened our eyes where we need to be at and how we need to play and how we need to prepare.”
The Gators’ offense is averaging 33 points a game and has the 17th best passing attack in the country. Virginia’s defense is aggressive. Their 45 sacks are 7th best in the country and, as we all know, Florida is going to throw the ball. Virginia has seen that on tape and 39-year old defensive coordinator Nick Howell was complimentary when speaking of Kyle Trask and the Gator offense.
“I think he just fits really well in the scheme that they’re doing,” Howell said of Trask. “I think if you’re a quarterback and you drop back and it’s not a guy or two guys but multiple guys that you can throw the ball to in a scheme that is really good, he has a lot of options, he’s a big-bodied kid, know what I mean? He’s not going down easy. He’s got a really strong arm.”
Trask taking over for Franks was a fork in the road. The Gators’ season could have gone south in a hurry but Trask and the coaching staff haven’t allowed that. It took time to figure out what Trask did well, what the offense was efficient running but they’ve done that.
This season the Gators are throwing the ball on 54% of their plays, which doesn’t seem like a huge disparity but when you look at their total yards, 71% of those come through the air. The Gators are a pass-first team and they don’t try to hide it. That doesn’t mean that Virginia will sell out against the run, they’ve seen the Auburn film.
“You look at that on film and you’re like, they’re throwing the ball a ton but then you watch the running back and he’s pretty dang good, too. They’ve chosen to throw the football for whatever reasons they see but I think they’re extremely capable,” Howell said. “Jersey No. 2 and jersey No. 27 are both good running backs and they have good running schemes. They just have a plethora of wide receivers to throw the ball to but it’s not like you can disregard the run. If you disregard the run and start dialing things up for the pass then the dude’s gonna go 60 on you really fast.”
This game means a lot to Virginia, maybe more to the Cavaliers than the Gators. Winning 10 games means a lot to a school better known for basketball and lacrosse than football. Florida has its own motivations for this game. Winning a second consecutive New Year’s Six Bowl game would be huge for a program that went 4-7 in 2017. The players want to send the seniors off right, they want to enjoy one last game with each other and they want to show that they, as they’ve said all year long, can play with any team in the country. They will be ready on December 30. They’re not overlooking Virginia at all.
“You gotta come out with your A-game every game cause if you sleep on a team on Saturday, there’s a chance a chance you’re gonna get upset by anybody,” Lamical Perine said.
“It would mean a lot, playing a good team in Virginia,” receiver Van Jefferson added.“(We) Just got to execute the way that we do, but it would be a huge win for the Gators, man. It would be huge for the program. It would be huge for the seniors. You know, I can’t wait to play on Monday.”