The details surrounding Florida’s fourth-quarter comeback in Lexington, Kentucky last Saturday seemed straight out of Hollywood. Devastation and despair, soon replaced by hope and jubilation, all in a matter of 20 minutes. The wave of emotions? A familiar feeling for Florida fans, nonetheless.
In the aftermath of UF’s 19 unanswered points, questions soon arose about Kyle Trask’s long-term profitability under center; how would he fare over the course of 60 minutes, or when the opponent had scouted him? Fair inquiries, yet ones that can create needless anxiety, as the only answer deemed relevant exists in the form of application — meaning, Trask, like Franks and a multitude of UF quarterbacks before him, can only eliminate doubt through performance.
For as much as Trask has impressed teammates, coaches and fans alike with his preparedness and willingness to bide his time, it’s one thing to perform when it’s unexpected and another to execute under pressure.
Trask’s moment to do the latter — one which he’s waited and prepared for since 2012 — comes Saturday.
“Every one of the quarterbacks is expected to always be in a leadership role within our program, and how they act, how they carry themselves, whether it’s in workouts, whether it’s in the huddle, whether it’s in their group,” Gators coach Dan Mullen said. “In any aspect, we expect them to be that way.”
However, for as impressive as Florida’s offense was in the fourth quarter with Trask at quarterback, by no means is UF’s attack firing on all cylinders heading into Saturday’s mid-day match-up with Tennessee.
Josh Hammond’s 76-yard run not only capped Florida’s comeback — it masked an otherwise dismal night on the ground for the Gators.
The No. 9-ranked Gators enter Saturday averaging just under 140 rushing yards per game this season, putting them in antepenultimate place in the SEC and No. 91 in NCAA Division I football. With Hammond’s run subtracted from Florida’s rushing composite against the Wildcats, the Gators registered just 62 rushing yards on 26 attempts — a paltry 2.38 yard-per-carry average.
Suffice to say, that’s not going to cut it, and that’s before factoring in Florida is set to unleash a quarterback who has yet to start at the collegiate level.
“We all got to stay within our system, stay within our play calls and just execute at a high level,” running back Dameon Pierce said. “It’s not the fact that they can’t do it, it’s the fact that we’re making little mistakes and we’d rather fix the little mistakes than the big mistakes, so we go in to film every day, we’re coaching them guys up and we’re going to get better.”
While Florida’s running back unit isn’t shying away from accepting a fair share of blame and scrutiny for the lack of production through a quarter of the season, it’s no secret the focal point of improvement is the offensive line.
A unit that entered the 2019 campaign with potential yet lacking significant in-game experience, Florida’s offensive line remains a work in progress heading into a consecutive conference contest. While the Gators allowed just a lone sack against the Wildcats, Kentucky was consistently able to get pressure in the backfield, resulting in four quarterback pressures and five tackles for a loss on the night.
With a new quarterback — and, to be frank, a slightly less athletic one — in Trask, the offensive line feels the urgency to continue cleaning up mistakes heading. Whether it be Trask or Emory Jones barking out the snap count, the Gators understand the need to take some of the weight off of their shoulders for Florida’s offense to avoid a regression.
“It’s always important to protect no matter how many you have or who’s back there. It’s really important to keep those guys upright,” offensive lineman Brett Heggie said. “You know, looking back at film, we’re one block away from a big play. It’s frustrating to see, but really, just moving on and get it right for this game we’re playing against Tennessee and, again, just focusing on the small things. We’re close to breaking big plays and we just have to put it all together.”