Florida’s comeback against Kentucky was undoubtedly one of the more dramatic and enthralling in recent memory, with long-term back-up Kyle Trask leading the Gators to 19 unanswered points in the decisive fourth quarter.
In the aftermath, breakdowns of Trask’s performance would arrive in droves, with some going as far as to say the Manvel, Texas, native would turn Florida’s offense in an exciting affair.
Yet in the eyes of former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky, it was the contrary that proved to be the catalyst in Trask’s success in Lexington.
“The best way for me to put it, and this is said in a complementary fashion, but he played boring football,” Orlovsky said. “He understands the scheme Dan Mullen has is kind of predicated on guys who get open. It’s spread and there’s numbers advantages, and he just understood taking the throw that was there, and he threw it to players and not positions, and he played in rhythm. He wasn’t trying to come in and make up for seven years of not playing.”
A small sample size, yes, but an impressive one in the eyes of Orlovsky — although it’s no secret the real test comes Saturday.
With Trask set to make his first start since his freshman year of high school when Tennessee arrives in Gainesville for a noon showdown Saturday, Orlovsky will have a front row seat — well, actually, it’s more of a bird’s eye view. Orlovsky, who stepped into the broadcast booth in 2018 following 13 seasons in the NFL, is set to join play-by-play announcer Bob Wischusen and sideline reporter Allison Williams on the call for Saturday’s contest, and he shared his thoughts and predictions with the Gainesville Sun prior to arriving on campus.
For one, expect Trask’s performance to be picked apart and scrutinized by many; the ascension from back-up to starter, a dream of many yet realized by few, comes with its own set of unique challenges and struggles.
“When you’re down 19 points, you can go out there and play free. When you’re the starter, and you take the first snap, the success or failure of the team is upon you, so there’s a little more pressure in that moment,” Orlovsky said. “But from everything I’ve read, he’ll be ready for the moment. The biggest thing is, like I said, don’t try and make up for seven years of not starting in one game. Play how you did in the fourth quarter against Kentucky.”
Orlovsky knows that’s easier said than done for someone in Trask’s position, and it could result in Florida running out multiple quarterbacks against the Volunteers. Gators coach Dan Mullen insinuated as much as UF opened game preparation, saying redshirt freshman QB Emory Jones should see the field in some capacity come Saturday — even if Trask remains on the field.
For a Florida offense yet to fully click in 2019, and with an offensive line that’s left much to be desired through three games, the idea of rotating quarterbacks may sound like a daunting prospect.
Orlovsky concurred, saying it could result in a slower tempo of play rather than playing to Florida’s advantage, and it’ll require preparation and consistent awareness from the other 10 men on offense.
“Rhythm, coming in and out of the game, but if those guys are informed of it previously, you’re kind of expecting it. Now, I would imagine if Kyle Trask comes out there and takes the first snap and they go right down the football field, and their offense is humming, I would imagine at that moment they will not pull him and give Emory some reps,” Orlovsky said. “I would say the biggest thing is, quarterbacks for the most part are territorial. Every quarterback wants it to be their show and their team and their huddle, so that’s the biggest thing: understand there’s going to be moments in the game where it’s not yours, and then there’s going to be moments when it’s yours.”
If that sounds like it may fly in the face of Orlovsky’s advice to Trask — play as if it’s the fourth quarter in Kentucky — then you’re not the only one. Hence why Saturday could prove to be more problematic — or, at least, more unpredictable from a performance standpoint — for Trask than the wild finish against the Wildcats.
“You always have to stay mentally locked in for, when you go out there, not pressing to try and do something and make something happen so you can stay on the field and justify it,” he said. “That is their biggest challenge.”
And the onus of leading Florida’s offense shouldn’t fall on an inexperienced quarterback, although it will clearly be a determining factor, Orlovsky predicted.
Florida’s rushing ranks just No. 91 in the country in yards per game heading into Saturday’s contest, meaning the Gators may need to establish the ground game early to alleviate pressure on the quarterback’s shoulders. Although Orlovsky expects the Gators to emerge victorious and improve to 4-0, it will require an all-around performance from the offense — and possibly four quarters of “fourth quarter at Kentucky” football from Trask.
“It’s important every week, right, especially when you want that to be who you are, and that’s who Florida and Mullen want to be, is a run-first football team, but Tennessee schematically does a lot of things that will challenge quarterbacks. They lie to you all the time, what they show you is not what is going to be, so it’s a lot easier to have success against that when it’s not 3rd and 8, 3rd and 9, and when you are controlling the emotion of the game by running it,” Orlovsky said. “I’m one of those people who sees Tennessee a little bit better than their 1-2 record. I think they’re four plays away from being 3-0 at the same time. They’ve had moments where they’ve looked really good, and they’ve had moments where they’ve struggled. I can kind of make the same argument about Florida as well.
“I expect it to be a relatively good football game barring injuries and turnovers and what not. Kyle Trask will have to play well. I expect Tennessee to challenge him and pressure him and see if he can handle a bunch of different pressures, but if they don’t turn the football over, Florida should win the football game.”