Notebook: Trask built to handle prosperity

Sep 29, 2020 | 0 comments

Under Dan Mullen’s tutelage, quarterbacks Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, and Dak Prescott rewrote their schools’ record books.

On Saturday, Kyle Trask accomplished something that no other Mullen quarterback has ever done by tossing six touchdowns, which also tied the SEC record for most touchdown passes in a conference opener.

“I think it’s great,” Mullen said. “A lot of the credit goes to him and where he went with the ball and how fast he made those decisions and how to get it to the right player. I think he knows we have a lot of confidence in his throwing the ball. It does say a lot about him. I’ve had some pretty good quarterbacks over the years, so that’s a pretty unique deal.”

Still, Trask isn’t content with the way he played against the Rebels. In his mind, that game was merely the first step in a season-long journey, and he left a couple of plays out there.

For example, early in the third quarter, he misread the coverage and tried to force a pass to freshman receiver Xzavier Henderson on a slant route. Rebels defensive back Jay Stanley was directly in the path of the throw and nearly intercepted it.

On third-and-goal from the 5-yard line early in the fourth quarter, he had redshirt freshman receiver Trent Whittemore open on a corner route. Trask didn’t release the ball in time, and by the time it got there, Whittemore was well out of bounds. The Gators had to settle for an Evan McPherson field goal.

“Those are definitely a couple of the plays that I was talking about that could have been cleaned up and we could have executed even better,” Trask said. “The corner route, like you said, if the ball gets out like a half-second sooner, it might be another touchdown. That slant that got batted, that's just on me. I just got to get through my progression. They were rotating away from the slant, so I was expecting it to be there, but they did a good job of closing down the hole, and I just got to see it and get it to the flat next time."

A lot of quarterbacks in Trask’s position wouldn’t take that approach to the game. After all, six touchdowns and more than 400 passing yards without a turnover is pretty much as good you can possibly play in the SEC. Mullen thinks Trask’s long tenure as a backup quarterback in both college and high school has instilled in him an intense dedication and work ethic. He’s been fighting an uphill battle to earn playing time for his entire career, and that mindset has remained with him despite his newfound stardom.

“He’s a guy who’s worked really hard to put himself in this position,” Mullen said. “He’s been on the big stage; it’s not too big for him. I think he understands and respects the position he’s in and doesn’t take it for granted, so I think that’s going to be the biggest thing.

“I think most important to him is he’s doing his job managing the game, making good decisions, putting us in the right plays, getting the ball out of his hands faster and being accurate. That’s the stuff that he worries about.”

Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said Trask’s level-headed personality helps him deal with the highs and lows that come with playing quarterback at Florida. He doesn’t anticipate his success against Ole Miss to negatively affect him.

“I think quarterback is obviously a very demanding position,” he said. “You've got to be able to handle success the same way you handle adversity, and I think having that even-keel attitude that he does, and we talk a lot about that on the sideline, we were kind of rolling and just talking about staying with a laser-sharp focus and not taking your foot off the gas and just continuing to be aggressive and really, really diligent and detailed in what you're seeing and how you're playing.”

Trask said it’s easy for him to remain grounded because he hasn’t accomplished anything yet this week. He knows that it can all come crumbling down if he doesn’t continue to play well.

“I would just have to say it's probably just how I was raised, to not really give into anything until it's actually finished,” he said. “Our goal for that week was to go 1-0, and we did it. Now we're trying to go 1-0 again this week.

“I don't care if I had zero touchdown passes; I'm just trying to get a number in that win column."

Offensive line making progress

While Trask and tight end Kyle Pitts lit up the scoreboard against the Rebels, UF’s offensive line quietly played one of its finest games of the Mullen era.

They paved the way for 196 rushing yards and 6.8 yards per rush, a number they reached only one time in 2019. Trask was only sacked once, and that one was arguably on Trask for holding onto the ball too long.

“There weren’t a lot of mistakes upfront,” Mullen said. “As the game went on, I think we made some good adjustments to what they were doing to run the ball even more efficiently than we did early in the game.”

Their efforts were recognized on Monday, as redshirt senior Brett Heggie was named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week. Mullen believes the award was much deserved.

“I thought the offensive line, as a whole, played well,” he said. “A lot of times, that almost ends up being a team award. I know it goes to the individual, and I give Brett a lot of credit. He was well deserving and had a great game, having to go in and jump in at center. He was a guy who was going to play either center or guard and had to do both. He was forced to play center and did a great job of it.”

Heggie is appreciative of the honor but also recognizes that the award is really a reflection of the entire unit. The center just happens to be perhaps the most visible component of that.

“It's definitely a big honor,” Heggie said. “I think a lot of the credit should go to the other four guys just being able to communicate and put me in good spots to execute and pick up blocks throughout the game."

Heggie believes the biggest difference up front this year is experience, which has allowed them to communicate better and be on the same page. It also helps that the limited crowds make communication much easier.

“I think the most important thing is just being on the same page and just really communicating to the guys of what's going on and where we're going and who we're blocking and just be on the same page,” he said. “And that's huge, just to be able to execute.”

Onto the next one

While South Carolina ranked just 12th in the league in passing defense last season, head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson have a reputation for being two of the brightest defensive minds in the game and playing a physical, attacking style of football.

Cornerback Israel Mukuamu is 6-foot-4 and plays very physical, which should give him a chance to hang with the Gators’ big, physical receiving corps. His status for the game, however, is unknown after he left their season-opening loss to Tennessee with a groin injury and didn’t return.

Upfront, the Gamecocks are led by senior end Aaron Sterling, a Preseason Second Team All-SEC selection by the media. They also have a collection of promising young talent, such as five-star freshman tackle Jordan Burch.

They have the potential to apply pressure to Trask and the length on the back end to keep up with Florida’s receivers, which could make them a worthy adversary on Saturday.

“They have some long corners and big safeties,” Mullen said. “They’re probably going to have some athletes that they can match up with [Pitts]. They’re big men and play a lot of man coverage, so you’ll have some one-on-one matchups, so it’s about creating the best match-up we can.

“I think they have a very talented front. They have some veteran guys who are starters, and then really a bunch of five-star guys that they have recruited over the last few years. Very, very talented front, as well. It’ll be a big challenge. Every time, each of the last few years, this game, it’s kind of come down to the end. We have to be ready to go play for four quarters.”

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