The Kyle Trask quarterback era at Florida got underway with a rousing and robust start in The Swamp on Saturday. The redshirt junior’s performance wasn’t perfect, of course, but it certainly was positive, pleasing and has everyone buzzing about what might lie ahead for the Gators this season — and beyond.
Trask certainly didn’t look or perform like a quarterback who was making his first start since his freshman year of high school. Composed and confident from his first throw to his last, he completed 20 of 28 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns in leading the No. 9 Gators to a 34-3 blowout of SEC East rival Tennessee before a sun-splashed crowd of 82,776 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The win moves the Gators to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the SEC.
“I thought he was relaxed,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “You never know. He hadn’t been in that situation in a long time. I kind of was always joking with him, ‘Make sure you’re having fun while we’re out there. You prepared for this. You prepared the right way. Relax and go have fun.’
“He prepared the right way. He’s been preparing the right way. He was given this opportunity and it’s kind of what I expected. Similar to what I expected last week.
“I wasn’t shocked last week by his performance and wasn’t shocked by his performance today. He’s had an interesting career. He’s prepared himself the right way.”
Trask’s first opportunity came last week at Kentucky, when he replaced injured starter Feleipe Franks in the fourth quarter and rallied the Gators to a 29-21 victory with a 19-0 quarter.
That performance earned him his first start Saturday, and he obviously came out ready to play.
He completed his first pass — a deep ball to wide receiver Trevon Grimes that covered 43 yards. His second attempt was a 19-yard touchdown strike down the middle to tight end/wide receiver Kyle Pitts to give the Gators the quick, early lead.
Trask — and the offense — kind of took off from there.
“Phenomenal,” Grimes said of Trask. “He came out, he executed, he did what he needed to do. He showed Gator Nation what he can do. I’m really happy for him and looking forward to the rest of the season him being our quarterback.
“He’s been through a lot. It’s an honor to be able to go out there and say, ‘That’s my quarterback.’ It’s kind of like a movie. He’s had so much adversity, but he stayed strong and showed who he is today. He’s our quarterback.”
Trask’s overall performance was so impressive that he didn’t even draw criticism from his coach for throwing two drive-killing interceptions in the third quarter, the second coming in the end zone.
“Both interceptions, it wasn’t like he threw to a guy and hit a defender in the chest,” Mullen said. “He took a shot on two plays, gave the receivers a chance. You have to make good decisions on taking those chances. He really managed the game well. I thought he was sharp, good decisions all day long.”
Mullen wasn’t OK with Trask’s third turnover — a fumble in the first half when he held onto the ball too long in the pocket and was sacked from behind.
But, hey, a teaching moment for a quarterback who hasn’t played much at this level.
“The fumble, he’s trying to hold the ball, hold the ball,” Mullen said. “If it’s not there, burn it, play the next play. That comes with experience. Overall, I thought he played very well.”
Trask said he wasn’t nervous at any point in the game. And he said the week leading up to the game was no different than any other, expect the fact he got a lot more reps in practice.
“It’s been a while (since I’ve started a game), but I was prepared,” he said. “The coaches do a great job preparing us for every game. I’m proud of the way our team played. We’re 4-0, that’s huge.
“My personal preparation hasn’t changed. I’ve always been preparing like I’m the starter.”
He is the starter now, and in his first performance in his new role he had the offense moving consistently up and down the field for most of the afternoon. That Gators finished with 25 first downs and 441 total yards.
And the defense certainly had Trask’s back. And the offense’s back.
The offense turned the ball over four times, but UT scored no points on those giveaways.
“Defensively, 11 guys running to the ball really hard,” Mullen said. “We really did a good job stopping the run. Playing great defense, we created a lot of turnovers.”
Overall, it was Florida’s best and most complete performance of the season.
“The craziest part is we’re just scratching the surface,” senior defensive end Jon Greenard said.
While the Gators are celebrating a 4-0 start, the struggling Vols drop to 1-3 on the season, 0-1 in the SEC.
“We’ve not good enough to beat a good football team if we don’t play mistake free,” UT coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “You have to give Florida credit. They ran the football better than us, created some explosive plays in the throw game, got turnovers from us and didn’t have the penalties or mistakes that we made.”
Who: Towson vs. No. 9 Florida
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850