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Notebook: Trask cements place in Gators lore

September 15, 2019
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Who knows where Kyle Trask’s career will go from here? Three weeks from now, fans could be calling for him to be benched. That’s the nature of the starting quarterback position at Florida.

But he’ll always have this moment. He’ll forever be remembered as the guy who came off the bench and played a near-flawless fourth quarter in the No. 9 Gators’ 29-21 come-from-behind victory over Kentucky (2-1, 0-1 SEC) on Saturday night at Kroger Field in Lexington.

After Feleipe Franks suffered what is believed to be a season-ending dislocated right ankle late in the third quarter, Trask came in and looked confident, comfortable, commanding and accurate. He completed nine of 13 passes for 126 yards, provided the deciding points with a four-yard rushing score and led the Gators (3-0, 1-0 SEC) to a 19-0 run to end the game.

[Dan Mullen] prepares three starters; that’s his thing,” Trask said. “So, I was expected to go out there and produce. I was expected to go out there and win the game. So, it was nothing new. Our whole team, we expect ourselves to finish like that. I’m just really proud of our guys for finishing the way we did.”

Mullen said the original plan was for Trask and redshirt freshman Emory Jones to split snaps. However, Trask got on a roll and forced Mullen to leave him in there.

“When you’re kind of more in a drop-back, Emory makes you kind of nervous because of the run, play-action and all that kind of stuff he can bring to the table,” Mullen said. “Kyle was kind of hot, so we just kind of stuck with it.”

Trask is a rarity in modern college football – a redshirt junior backup quarterback. A lot of players decide to transfer if they don’t start as freshmen or sophomores, but Trask is different. His entire story is different. How many high school backup quarterbacks have led comeback victories on the road in the SEC? The list has to be small.

“I said, ‘Kyle, hey, if you’re not the guy, where’s your situation?’ Mullen said. “He said, ‘I’m here.’ I’m like, ‘OK, you’re graduating. What’s the situation?’ ‘I’m here. I’m ready to learn, ready to go to grad school, love being a Gator, but I’m going to work my tail off and compete.’”

He’s not the most vocal leader, but Trask earned the respect of his teammates by working hard in practice, not getting discouraged by his lack of playing time and sticking with the program when he had every reason to leave.

“Kyle’s a guy who’s always prepared,” receiver Josh Hammond said. “You saw last year with the Missouri game, he was able to come in and give us a spark. We were confident. We knew he was going to be able to come in and make those plays.”

And now, he’s the hero, at least for the night.

Franks’ Injury Showed the Leader He’s Become

It was an emotional scene as Feleipe Franks lay on the turf writhing in pain. Every player on the Gators’ sideline formed a circle around their fallen leader to show their support.

“Realizing how he put everything into the game, it just made us want to go out and play a lot more harder for him,” defensive end Jonathan Greenard said. “It was sad how he went out, but we know he’s going to bounce back better than ever.”

Despite all of the criticism Franks has endured throughout his career – some fair, some unfair – his teammates have never wavered in their belief in him. He’s one of the most popular players on the team and somebody that his teammates rally around.

“It shows what he means to the team and what the team thinks of him as a leader and the type of guy he is, how hard he works to go do that,” Mullen said. “It shows the respect that they have for his leadership and the love that they have for him. It’s a pretty close team, and these guys work hard for these things, and it’s a tragedy when that happens.”

Mullen said he briefly talked to Franks as he was being helped off the field.

“I told him we all loved him, and we’re all there for him,” he said.

Hammond’s Heroics

Facing a third-and-6 at his own 24-yard line with 44 seconds remaining, Mullen faced a difficult decision. Should he run it into the teeth of the Wildcats’ defense once again, force them to use their final timeout and punt? Or, should he try something a little more creative – and risky – to put the game away and take their fate out of the hands of their struggling defense?

Of course, he opted for the latter, handing the ball to Josh Hammond on a jet sweep. Hammond picked up a pair of huge blocks from tight ends Kyle Pitts and Lucas Krull and raced down the right sideline for a 76-yard score that is the play of the season so far for UF. It was the longest rushing score by the Gators since Trey Burton’s 80-yarder at Tennessee in 2012.

The correct play would’ve been for Hammond to go down at the one-yard line. UF could’ve taken a couple of knees and ended it. By scoring, he gave UK a chance at a miracle drive. It’s hard to blame Hammond, though. When your sideline and fans are erupting in euphoria, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the emotion of the moment.

“Poor coaching that I didn’t get down because if he gets down, we take a knee, the game’s over,” Mullen said. “That’s really hard to tell guys to do, to just take a dive and just lay there on the field.”

Offensive Line Woes Continue

If you take out Hammond’s 76-yarder, UF rushed for 62 yards at 2.4 yards-per-carry. Right tackle Jean Delance and right guard Christopher Bleich both missed blocks which caused Franks to fumble the ball in the second quarter. A holding call on Delance later in the quarter wiped a Franks rushing touchdown off the board.

In other words, it was more of the same for the Gators’ least experienced unit.

Mullen said only one or two of the pressures allowed were due to simply getting beat; the rest were the result of missed assignments. The mental errors are discouraging for sure but are easier to correct than physical mistakes.

Part of the pass-heavy attack had to do with the way Kentucky defended them, he said. They played a lot of soft man coverage, particularly after Trask entered the game. Mullen said he likes to run it slightly more than he throws it, but he’ll do whatever it takes to win.

“If you’re going to sit there and let us throw it and say, ‘We’re not going to let you run it,’ we’ll throw it,” he said.

Third and Grantham?

After holding their first two opponents to a combined 7-for-30 (23.3 percent) on third and fourth downs, Kentucky converted nine of 17, prompting a lot of anger and criticism toward defensive coordinator Todd Grantham from fans on social media and message boards.

Greenard said the scheme and preparation were fine; they just need to execute better.

“I feel like we were trying to think too much and not just playing football,” he said. “It came from pass rush, we weren’t getting back there like we wanted to. We wanted to get a push up front. The secondary would have to tackle, make big plays and, jump balls, we had to win those. Just plays that we can control, mental things that we already went over that we just have to put into playing in a game. We went over film and knew what was coming; we just have to finish off better.”

Mullen said the one that irritated him the most was when they allowed the Wildcats to convert a third-and-21 on their second possession of the game.

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Notebook: Trask cements place in Gators lore

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