OXFORD, Miss. – Kyle Pitts gives Florida an almost unfair advantage.
The star tight end caught four of Kyle Trask’s six touchdown passes and No. 5 Florida spoiled the head coaching debut of Mississippi’s Lane Kiffin with a 51-35 victory Saturday.
Trask completed 30 of 42 passes for 416 yards including touchdown passes of 1, 16, 71 and 17 yards to Pitts. The star tight end had 170 yards receiving on eight catches.
Trask directed four consecutive touchdown drives that spanned the second and third quarters to build a 41-14 lead for the Gators (1-0 Southeastern Conference).
Trask modestly chose to deflect the attention to 6-foot-6, 240-pound Pitts, who consistently found seams in the Ole Miss secondary.
“He is a match up nightmare for defenses,” Trask said. “He’s too big for cornerbacks and too fast for linebackers so it gives defenses lots of trouble and that’s what you like to see.”
After an unusual offseason, filled with uncertainty because of the pandemic, just playing was a victory.
“You know what? the question of are we playing next week, when can we play, how long is training camp, when is this ever going to happen, when are we ever going to get to a game?" said Mullen, who coached nine years at Mississippi State and went 5-4 against the Rebels. "We got to a game. It’s a great day for us and a great win.”
Kiffin, the former Tennessee and USC head coach who came to Ole Miss from FAU, had the Rebels’ offense humming with Matt Corral at quarterback.
Corral completed 22 of 31 passes for 395 yards and three touchdowns passes, two to Dontario Drummond.
But they couldn’t stop the Gators. Ole Miss (0-1) tied it at 14 midway through the second quarter before yielding to the Trask-led Florida outburst.
“We had a lot of chances to make plays to change the outcome” Kiffin said.
“When you play the No. 5 team in the nation, you can’t make mistakes like we did if you want to win. We’re 0-1 and we’ve got to go on the road and find a way to get to 1-1.”
The teams combined for 1,255 yards of total offense, including 642 by the Gators.
Trevon Grimes and Kedarius Toney had touchdown receptions of 22 and 16 yards respectively, for Florida. Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner had touchdown runs and Kenny Yoboah added a touchdown reception for the Rebels.
Florida: The already high expectations for Mullen’s third team should only go up a notch. Along with the formidable offense, the kicking game was highlighted by three field goals by Evan McPherson, including a 55-yarder with room to spare. Brenton Cox Jr. led the defense that had 11 tackles for loss and a turnover,
Ole Miss: The Rebels featured a completely new coaching staff with scheme changes. Spring practice did not happen. An influx of newcomers and coronavirus testing protocols shuffled the depth charts. Expectations were cautiously optimistic for Kiffin’s home debut in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 16,010 and nearly 600 fan cutouts purchased at $55 apiece. The Rebels answered with an impressive offensive performance, led by Elijah Moore’s 227 yards receiving.
"I don’t care about individual stats, I care about winning,” said Moore, who finished with 10 receptions and had another touchdown catch erased on a holding penalty. “We didn’t win, so it doesn’t matter.”
Before the opening kick, players from each team took a knee to acknowledge racial injustice in the United States.
Both teams put out statements on social media right before the game started.
“As members of the Florida and Ole Miss football teams, we recognize the impact of our personal platforms and are choosing to amplify the issues that directly impact us. Together we have chosen to take the opening series of today’s competition to acknowledge the unrest in our country surrounding the treatment of African Americans. We will continue to support social justice efforts as members of the Southeastern Conference and members of our respective communities.”
Six SEC teams, including the fifth-ranked Gators, are among the top 10 teams in the poll. The impressive performance secures them a poll slot among the elite, but moving up will be difficult.
Florida: The Gators host South Carolina Saturday. The home opener will be the second successive early morning kickoff for Florida.
Ole Miss: The Rebels visit No. 23 Kentucky Saturday.