Florida coach Dan Mullen said his team could have opted not to play at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on Wednesday night based on the availability of players, but opted anyway because the players wanted to compete.
After a 55:20 loss to Oklahoma # 6, Mullen said his exhausted roster would have allowed the # 7 Gators to skip the game.
"With the number of people out for the game, we were actually under the numbers," said Mullen. "We had the numbers not to play the game.
Mullen added, "I give credit to our boys … Our young boys wanted to play in this game and they wanted to have that experience and be on this stage."
On Tuesday, Mullen estimated that he would have 60 fellows available. The SEC has set a minimum threshold of 53 scholars to enter the game this season, but teams could choose to play even if they don't hit that number. There were also minimums in three key positions: quarterbacks (one), defensive linemen (four), and offensive linemen (seven).
Mullen did not state whether the gators were below the minimum at any particular location.
"I've seen – I don't know, maybe that's wrong – that wasn't the 2020 football team that you saw," said Mullen of the Gators, who ended 4-4 after the last three games. "Tonight, 25 players missed the 2020 soccer team. That was a kick-start for the future for us, an opportunity for young people to play."
Mullen added, "The 2020 team's last game was 11 days ago (in the SEC championship)."
Several starters were among the missing gators. Her top three recipients – Kadarius Toney, Trevon Grimes, and Jacob Copeland – were all out, as were Kyle Pitts. Grimes, Pitts and Toney were eliminated from the game as they prepared for the NFL draft, and Copeland was eliminated because he tested positive for COVID-19. The Gators were also without four defensive starters.
The missing pass catcher had a significant impact on quarterback Kyle Trask, a Heisman Trophy finalist. The senior threw three high-time interceptions and didn't throw a touchdown after entering the game at 43. Its degree of completion (57.1%) was also a season low. Second quarterback Emory Jones also saw significant playing time, attempting 16 passes and racing 10 times for 60 yards and a score.
Oklahoma (9-2) dominated Florida, finishing with 684 yards, including 435 rushing. Earlier, coach Lincoln Riley said they had decided "we were going to be a team on a mission" and "we wanted to make a statement about the way we played".
Central Oklahoma Creed Humphrey said, "We saw the (Gators) opt-outs. We didn't care who opted out or who stayed for this game. We were ready to roll and go out and play them anyway. " no matter who it was. We're just glad they showed up and gave us the chance to play. "
The Sooners also said they knew about the comments Florida linebacker James Houston made last week, calling Oklahoma "a good matchup" but "not our level". Marvin Mims, a freshman to Oklahoma, said, "It definitely fueled the fire a little," and Sooner's quarterback Spencer Rattler tweeted after the game, "It was a good matchup."
"I would be lying if I said we hadn't seen what our opponent said," said Rattler later. "We went out there and just did our job, performed, focused on what we had to do as a group, and prevailed."