All-America Watch: Florida’s Pitts one of nation’s top TEs

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              Florida tight end Kyle Pitts (84) celebrates after scoring a touchdown on a 15-yard pass reception during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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It was midway through the third quarter last Saturday, and Missouri had just cut Florida’s lead to 13-6, when Gators quarterback Kyle Trask dropped back and saw Kyle Pitts down the right sideline.

Trask heaved the ball and Pitts, the big and rangy tight end, grabbed it along with Tigers safety Khalil Oliver. They still had control of it when they hit the ground, Pitts unwilling to let it out of his enormous paws, and it took a video review to decide who had possession.

Pitts wound up with a 25-yard catch. And three players later, Trask threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Lamical Perine that effectively sealed the Gators’ 23-6 victory.

It was just another example of why Pitts is a legitimate candidate for postseason honors, including the AP All-America team presented by Regions Bank.

“Especially for the short throws over the middle, he has great body awareness to position guys up,” Trask said. “If nothing else is there, you’ve got a big athlete that is going to make plays.”

Pitts has been crucial to the Gators’ continued success after losing quarterback Feleipe Franks to a season-ending knee injury. He has the second-most catches and fifth-most yards receiving among tight ends nationally, averaging 4.2 catches per game and hauling in five touchdown catches.

He’ll be playing with a chip on his shoulder going forward, too.

The voting panel for the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s best tight end, revealed a list of eight semifinalists Monday. The biggest absence from the list: Pitts.

Evidently, Barry Odom wasn’t among the voters. The Tigers’ coach called Pitts a “matchup problem,” and that his defensive coaches were constantly tracking where he was all game.

“I’ll hear that in my sleep tonight: ‘Where’s 84 lined up?’” Odom said.

There was a Mackey Award semifinalist on the field Saturday: Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam, who has caught six TDs this season yet showed in one drive against the Gators why he’s been a maddening talent.

First, he dropped a pass right in his hands on first down early in the fourth quarter, something that has become a common occurrence. Then, four plays later, he snared a pass and used his huge size to shed Florida defensive back Trey Dean, who hit the ground so hard he took himself out of the game.

Okwuegbunam also let his temper get the best of him in the third quarter.

The Gators were called for a late hit on quarterback Kelly Bryant, a penalty that would have given Missouri a first down. But Okwuegbunam yanked Mohamoud Diabate away from the scrum and drew a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. That meant the penalties offset and the Tigers wound up punting.

Florida wound up heading the other direction for a touchdown and a 13-3 lead.

“I’ve got to take accountability for that,” Okwuegbunam said. “Not intentionally, trying to do anything dirty, just trying to get him off our sideline. Maybe a little bit dramatic, but at the end of the day, I just got to be a little smarter, keep my hands off of him.”

WHO’S HOT

Bradlee Anae, DE, Utah

The Utes have been smothering opponents, holding three of their last four without a touchdown. Anae, a senior edge rusher, has three sacks in his last two games and six in his last four.

WHO’S NOT

Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State

Gross-Matos was a second-team preseason AP All-American and is a possible first-round draft pick. But he hasn’t been the force coming off the edge that the Nittany Lions need him to be in recent weeks. He has one sacks over his last five games, and the last two weeks Penn State has been burned for more than 300 yards passing by both No. 11 Minnesota and Indiana.

ON THE LINE

(SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic, a former guard at Auburn, breaks down an offensive lineman playing at an All-America level).

Jackson Carman, OT, Clemson

The sophomore has helped pave the way for a dominant Clemson running game.

“He has been a big reason this offensive line is being discussed as the best Clemson has had under coach Dabo Swinney,” Cubelic said.

ALL-AMERICA MATCHUP

Justin Madubuike, DT, Texas A&M vs. Solomon Kindley, OG, Georgia

The Aggies’ first trip to Athens since joining the Southeastern Conference features a monster matchup along the interior. Madubuike is one of the more overlooked players in the SEC, if not the country. The 309-pound junior is a disruptive force against the run and rushing the passer, with 3.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. He will probably draw attention from all three of Georgia’s massive inside linemen. Kindley is the best of the bunch at left guard, maybe the best guard in the country.