10 things we learned from Gators' Orange Bowl win over Virginia

Edgar Thompson, Orlando Sentinel
·5 min read

Check out the top 10 things we learned from the Gators’ win over Virginia in the Orange Bowl Monday night.

1. Mullen’s calls

Leading up to the game, ESPN’s Rece Davis called Dan Mullen the best play-caller in college football. Mullen lived up to the billing by going for it twice on fourth down to keep alive key touchdown drives. Clinging to a 17-14 lead, UF converted a 4th-and-8 from the Virginia 35 with an 11-yard completion from Kyle Trask to Freddie Swain. The gutsier call came early in the fourth quarter when UF converted a fourth-and-1 from its own 44, and then scored three plays later to go ahead 33-21.

2. Perine shines

No one helped his NFL stock in the Orange Bowl like tailback Lamical Perine. Perine returned for his senior season, but things did not always go according to plan, largely due to an inexperienced offensive line. Perine, though, saved his best for last, showing breakaway speed on 61-yard touchdown run and tackle-breaking ability on a 16-yard TD catch. When the dust settled, Perine had gained 181 yards from scrimmage and scored three touchdowns.

3. Poised Trask

UF quarterback Kyle Trask was not at his best, but he made the plays that mattered and deserves to enter the offseason as the undisputed starter. Coach Dan Mullen became a tad choked up after the Orange Bowl as he describes Trask’s remarkable journey this season. But a sizable segment of the fanbase is enamored with redshirt freshman backup Emory Jones, believing he might supplant Trask as the starter next season. Jones rarely has a chance to handle the entire offense, instead offering a change of pace as a runner. Besides Trask’s physical gifts, the redshirt junior’s grasp of the offense, cool under pressure and sense of the moment will be hard to ignore as he enters his final season.

4. Elam’s big night

The future at cornerback is bright with Kaiir Elam. The first-year freshman effectively iced the game with a leaping interception at the Virginia 3. Elam, an SEC All-Freshman team selection, also added a pass breakup and a dynamic open-field tackle to end a promising season on a high note.

5. Perkins’ effort

UF can only hope redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Jones one day holds a candle to Virginia’s Bryce Perkins. Jones might be the Gators’ future at QB in Dan Mullen’s spread attack, but Perkins is a prototype dual-threat quarterback. Perkins showcased his ability to keep plays alive on his way to a four-touchdown night. Jones, who chipped in 32 rushing yards on four carries, said after the game he is ready for his shot. He had a chance to see the kind of player people hope Jones becomes.

6. Greenard’s farewell

UF pass rusher Jon Greenard re-aggravated an ankle injury Monday night, but had no regrets choosing to play in the bowl game. NFL-bound CB CJ Henderson sat out the Orange Bowl to avoid injury, despite the game being played in his Miami hometown. Greenard weighed his options, but ultimately decided the risk was worth it. Despite leaving the game more than once, Greenard came back in to pick up a sack — giving him 9.5 this season — and had a pass breakup.

7. Reese’s leadership

Senior linebacker David Reese will be sorely missed. Reese’s experience, leadership and production are going to be difficult to replace. A third-and-one stop of Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins on the Cavaliers opening series showcased Reese’s mental and physical prowess. Reese ended the night with five tackles - 1.5 for loss - to give him 94 stops this season and 322 at UF. Who fills the void in the middle of the defense will be something to watch this offseason.

8. Defensive gaps

UF’s pass defense has some serious holes to fill. The emergence of Kaiir Elam at cornerback is a positive, but replacing CJ Henderson and possibly Marco Wilson will be a big ask. Trey Dean’s struggles continued Saturday on Virginia’s opening touchdown, raising once again the question of whether he is better suited to play safety — an area where UF needs help. Following a promising sophomore season, safety Brad Stewart regressed in 2019. Virginia took advantage to give the Gators a better game than many anticipated.

9. Jefferson’s legacy

The Gators’ four senior receivers will be a big loss, but none more than Van Jefferson. Jefferson ended his two years at UF with a career-high 129 receiving yards on six receptions, showcasing his sharp route-running and sneaky-fast ability after the catch. Jefferson’s transfer from Ole Miss in 2018 received plenty of fanfare, and the 23-year-old delivered, leading UF wideouts in receptions and receiving yards each of the past two seasons.

10. Work to do

The gap with Clemson might be even wider than expected. The same Virginia team that pulled to within one-possession of UF late in the game lost 62-17 to Clemson in the ACC title game. That result led many to expect the Gators to rout the Cavaliers. UF never appeared to be in danger of losing, but also could not deliver the knockout punch the top programs do.

egthompson@orlandosentinel.com

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