Florida’s success should hinge on those around new starting quarterback

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Florida quarterback Kyle Trask in action during the second half last Saturday against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky. Florida won 29-21. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

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.”

8 COMMENTS

  1. This story borders on the fact and opinion boundary. Hall is just trying to create some sort of controversy about Trask not as athletic as Franks–whatever that means–and Trask has never started a game. So what?
    Before the Kentucky game sportswriter were questioning Smith ( the KY QB) because he had never played against an SEC defense and had transferred from a Division II school. I think he answered those questions. I expect no less from Kyle Trask.

    • Agree Cattrick, and surprised I am at Graham — he has a good style on his own, he gets to the nugs of a story in short order, and he’s a good writer to boot. The last thing he needs is for Dooley to rub off on him. So in this one article, he created some soft questioning and anxiety among Gator fans — OK, not his trademark but OK — what’s next? Sticking a journalistic finger in Gator fans eye? Come on…..stay with your own style, we dig you just the way you are, Graham.

      Now then — perhaps he may not be as athletic as Franks; frankly, I don’t know and I don’t care if he is or isn’t. He brings something to the table that Franks — God bless him — doesn’t. Seeing the field and processing speed. ‘Nuff said.

  2. While I am not a sportswriter by trade and I haven’t even stayed at a Holiday Inn Express lately; I think that the writer is missing out on a very important point that would have a positive impact on the running game.

    With Franks at QB, he rarely checked past the first receiver and it was highly unusual for the Gators to do any downfield passing. That allowed defenses to crowd the box and dare the Gators to run the ball which often created number mismatches for our blockers.

    With Trask at QB, even at the end of last week’s game, he often checked off his primary receiver and even off his secondary receiver to find the best choice to complete the pass. A good number of his passes were thrown further downfield than 4-5 yards, so that will cause the defense to have to drop their linebackers and safeties outside of the box.

    If Trask is able to do that throughout the course of the game, then that should open up holes for our running backs to gain more yards.

    Additionally, we have rarely run any misdirection running plays. This allows the defenders to move with the flow of the offense and be in a good position to clog up the running lanes. Running counters, misdirections, reverses and jet sweeps will help “unclog” the middle as well.

    Not only that, but it seems that our running backs seem almost frightened to run anywhere but where the play has been designed to go. The best running backs bounce outside when they see a hole has been filled, or never opened. Perhaps the coaches could empower the running backs to go where they see the best opening when the called play breaks down.

    Also, why are we not throwing short, downfield slants over the middle? So many of our passes only go to the boundary which acts as another defender. Open up the middle of the field and that will open up more running lanes too.

    Our offense is much better than it was over the previous 8-9 years, but its still too predictable. My wife often asks me how I know what play the Gators were going to run even before the play begins.

    Just a few thoughts from an armchair quarterback.

    • Good points! Of the running backs, it appears Damon Pierce is running the hardest. Again, if the Vols win in the trenches, it will be hard for the Gators to control the game. If its close in the 4th Quarter, I feel we can win the game with our strength and conditioning.

    • Amazing post Eric! I particularly liked your point about Franks at QB rarely checking past his primary receiver and highly unusually doing any downfield passing. As you rightfully point out, this leads defenses to crowd around the LOS to stop all the dinks, dunks and running plays. That makes the OL’s job doubly hard.

      It was refreshing to watch Trask REPEATEDLY find open receivers 10 to 20 yards downfield, on the left side, the right side and particularly in the middle of the field. He may, “to be frank, [be] a slightly less athletic” QB than Franks, but he more than makes up for it by having “slightly” sharper eyes, making “slightly” quicker decisions and throwing “slightly“ more accurate 10-20 yard downfield passes than Franks ever did. Heck, even the YPP on running plays in the 4th quarter improved by 33%, not counting the 76 YD jet sweep to cap it off, in which the handoff from Trask to Hammond was a masterful job of deception that even deceived the cameraman.

      If there’s any fairness in this world, Kyle Trask should be rewarded by fate for his 8 years of patience and perseverance with a highly successful season leading the Gators to victories that he has earned!

    • Jack, LOL … I have played football before but watch it religiously and would like to think I’ve picked up a good many skills through osmosis.

      Mudd, I agree that Dameon Pierce is the hardest runner, but think that Malik Davis, when healthy, is the best all around running back we have (of the top 3 – haven’t seen enough of the younger RBs to be able to include them).