Take a bow, Kyle Pitts. After an offseason that saw many analysts debating whether Pitts or Penn State tight end Pat Friermuth was the top NFL Draft prospect at the tight end position in college football, Pitts came out in the team’s season opener against Ole Miss looking like he wanted to end any debate once and for all.
Sixty minutes of football later, Pitts joined a Zoom video conference call with reporters who informed him of what he had just accomplished.
The star tight end hauled in eight catches for 170 yards and 4 touchdowns, helping Florida down Ole Miss 51-35 in a thoroughly thrilling back-and-forth affair. Only two other players in UF school history have racked up 4 touchdowns in a game: Ike Hilliard against Tennessee in 1995 and Jack Jackson vs. New Mexico State in 1994. It was the first time a tight end had racked up 4 touchdowns in an SEC game since 1999, according to ESPN.
Not bad company to keep.
“I think it’s a good start, but there’s always room for improvement and things I want to work on, during the run game,” Pitts said. “But you know, passing-wise, I feel like that was a good start for the offense and myself.”
Pitts was virtually unstoppable on Saturday. Couple him with an accurate passer like Kyle Trask and a coach as good at creating favorable matchups as Dan Mullen and you can get monster days like the one the junior tight end had in Oxford, Miss.
“He can do a lot of things,” Trask said of Pitts. “He’s a matchup nightmare for defenses. He’s too big for corners and too fast for linebackers, so he gives defenses a lot of trouble.”
Case in point: second play of the second half.
Trask, now a veteran quarterback with plenty of experience, got the look Florida had been waiting for and working toward all week in practice. Pitts covered by a Mike linebacker. Bingo.
Trask and Pitts both knew what the call was.
“When we had that, we just knew it was me versus him,” Pitts said. “And I just felt like once I caught it and stiff-armed him that I just had to use the best of my speed to keep going.”
Just a little 71-yard touchdown hookup, no big deal.
But shoot, it’s hard to pick out any one highlight from a performance where Pitts found paydirt four times. How about the last one, when Pitts was double covered and had two defenders draped all over him, but still hauled in a 16-yard strike from Trask?
Throw ball, let Pitts get ball.
“I saw he was technically double covered but felt he had a great position to make a play on the ball,” Trask said. “I just threw it up to him and let him do what he does best.”
“He’s a special player. But you know what, one of things you always try to do is create matchups,” Mullen said. “You saw some of the matchups we were able to create with him today. He’s that matchup problem as a tight end. That’s what you like. You get ‘backers matched up on him; that’s a problem for them in the pass game. You put DBs on him in the run game, he’s a physical blocker at the point of attack. That’s what you want in a tight end position.”
To his credit, Pitts has worked hard to become a more well-rounded player, not just an elite pass-catcher. He struggled at times in the run game last season as a blocker. So this offseason he focused on continuing to add strength and worked on leverage points and hand placement.
Pitts looked like a changed man Saturday, viciously sticking his head in there as a blocker, almost as if he was angry, a reporter told him after the game.
“I like that,” Pitts said with a smile. “That’s a compliment, I appreciate it.”
Bottom line: Pitts is ready to roll in 2020. That much is clear after his monster day in the season opener.
“I know he’s got a chip on his shoulder and wanted to go show what he could be this year and has really to me taken a step forward as a complete tight end for what we want,” Mullen said.