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Notebook: Trask’s journey comes full circle

November 23, 2020
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As expected, one of the dominant storylines during the Gators’ appearances with the media on Monday was that Sept. 14, 2019, night in Lexington, Kentucky, when a horrifying injury to the Gators’ starting quarterback ended up being the springboard to one of the greatest passing offenses in UF history.

For those that have been living under a rock but somehow managed to crawl out to read this story, let’s recap. Feleipe Franks suffered a dislocated ankle late in the third quarter with the Gators trailing 21-10. Kyle Trask entered the game that night with 10 career pass attempts to his credit. Trask led the Gators to a come-from-behind win by throwing for 126 yards and running for a touchdown. A little more than 14 months later, as No. 6 Florida prepares to play Kentucky on Saturday, Trask is perhaps the favorite to win the 2020 Heisman Trophy.

In the past, Trask had been unwilling to talk much about his past or the journey that’s led him to this point. For perhaps the first time, he admitted on Monday that he still thinks about the 2019 Kentucky game frequently.

“It's a huge moment for my career, being a backup for all that time, it kind of is waiting on that moment where you get your opportunity, and that kind of was where I got my chance to really get some meaningful reps and do something good for my team,” Trask said. “So yeah, I do think about it a lot, just kind of my, like, true beginnings in terms of when I finally got on the field for games, and it's been a crazy journey so far. I think we're just getting started.”

Trask’s teammates and coaches had confidence in him when he was given his battlefield promotion. They knew that Trask was talented, worked extremely hard, and was prepared to lead the team. He just simply hadn’t been given an opportunity to show it in games yet.

“I always wondered why he’s not in the game and why he’s not playing,” tight end Kemore Gamble said. “But when he came into the Kentucky game, I knew he was ready. He always worked hard. He was always in the film room. I just knew he was ready, so I wasn’t really worried about it.”

Trask’s perseverance serves as inspiration and encouragement for backup quarterback Emory Jones. As a highly recruited player in the Class of 2018 who has played sparingly so far in his career, Jones admits that there have been days where he’s felt disappointed with his playing time, but he knows that his time will come if he just sticks to the process.

“I definitely look at him and the path that he’s taken, had to go through, and he’s done nothing but just help me because it kept me confident, just seeing the things that he does and how he handles his business week in and week out,” Jones said. “It just keeps me motivated. It keeps me looking forward, and I can’t wait until it’s my turn.”

Coach Dan Mullen thinks the resiliency Trask showed by not transferring or stopping his hard work is a great lesson for people in all walks of life.

“It’s just such a unique story of continuing to stick with your goal and continuing to believe in yourself to get to where you are,” he said. “I think that’s what makes his such a special story. There’s a lot of things that come up with reasons why he’s not here. In today’s world, it’s hard to find a lot of people that would put themselves in the position he’s in, and yet it shows you the success you can have if you’re willing to stick with your goals and your dreams.”

Pitts to return, but Gators pleased with reserves

After missing the last two games following a brutal hit he absorbed in the Georgia game that resulted in a concussion and a nose surgery, superstar tight end Kyle Pitts is expected to return to action against the Wildcats, Mullen said.

That will be a welcomed sight for Gators fans. Some had wondered if Pitts might consider opting out of the season given the severity of his injury and his status as a likely top draft pick. Mullen said that, as far as he knows, that was never something that Pitts considered.

“He wanted to go play this past weekend,” he said. “I don’t think that was ever something that popped up. I think if you just look at his competitive spirit, who he is, he’s played with a competitive chip all year. He wants to continue to do that. You can ask him and the family, but everything we heard, we were in close contact with the family, and he thought he should have been cleared to play this past week.”

With Pitts cleared to return, the Gators will add the school’s career and single-season leader in touchdown receptions among tight ends back to an offense that is already firing on all cylinders and then some.

“He’s another weapon that we’re adding into the game, the rotation,” Mullen said. “He’s got to go battle for some playing time right now. Those other guys are playing pretty good. I think he’s such a playmaker. He’s such a leader and brings such great personality, as well, to the team. I think just having him back on the field is going to be great for everybody. And then I think the matchup problem that he causes defenses.”

Speaking of “those other guys,” they indeed did fill in admirably over the past 2 ¾ games. Gamble caught three touchdown passes over that stretch, while Keon Zipperer caught a pair of touchdown passes against Arkansas. They also run-blocked at a high level, which helped the Gators rush for more than 200 yards against Arkansas.

Mullen said the situation with Gamble and Zipperer wasn’t all that dissimilar from Trask’s situation last year. The coaches have always known that they were talented players who were ready to play against the best competition. Because Pitts was so dominant, however, they just didn’t get that many chances to show off their skills to the world until Pitts went down. Mullen wasn’t surprised with how they played the last few weeks.

“We have a lot of faith and confidence in those guys,” he said. “Those guys, they get as many reps in practice as Kyle does, so they've just prepared to be ready for their moments, and they're pretty talented guys.

“They probably benefit from the fact that as people are looking and said, 'Hey, Kyle Pitts is not in. We're going to focus on the other guys and not focus on the tight ends as much,' and they get advantageous matchups, and they’ve taken advantage of it.”

Trask said he has complete confidence in everybody that’s on the field beside him. He knew the coaches would have Gamble and Zipperer ready to play.

“I think all of those guys have been very well-coached, and they do a great job of now working very, very, very hard throughout the week and just taking what they've learned throughout the week and putting it on the field on Saturdays,” Trask said. “That's why they've done such a great job, not even in terms of just catching the ball and getting open but also at run-block and pass-blocking too.”

Trask spreading the ball around

When Pitts was ruled out for the Arkansas and Vanderbilt games, some wondered if Trask’s statistics might come back down to earth without Pitts drawing double-teams to open things up for the other receivers.

Instead, Trask turned in his third- and fourth-highest passing yardage totals of the season without Pitts. He did so by spreading the ball around to a plethora of weapons. Against Arkansas, 10 different players caught a pass, and five of them caught touchdowns. Nine different players caught passes against the Commodores.

Mullen said Trask has done a good job of going through his reads and finding the right matchups instead of trying to artificially create another go-to receiver.

“As you see, the number of guys who have multiple touchdown catches, the number of guys that have 10-plus catches on the season,” Mullen said. “Our tight ends have 38 catches on the year and 13 touchdowns. Our receivers have 108 catches and 19 touchdowns, and it’s spread out to a bunch of different guys. But Kyle is just going to kind of take and we’re going to coach him to take what they give us. And if they are going to try and bracket or double-team you or eliminate you from the game plan, another guy might have a big day. But eventually, they are going to go bracket the other guy or double-team the other guy. Now, you’re going to have a good day.”

The result has been an unpredictable and balanced passing attack. Trevon Grimes went over the 100-yard mark and scored twice against Arkansas. In the Vanderbilt game, Kadarius Toney eclipsed 100 yards for the first time in his career. Gamble didn’t catch a pass against Arkansas and caught two touchdown passes against Vanderbilt. Pitts’ return will make things increasingly difficult for opposing defenses because no matter who they try to take away, Trask will find a favorable matchup and exploit it.

“Obviously, Pitts brings a lot of mismatches to defenses, but at the same time, we have so many great tight ends and receivers, so many weapons overall,” Trask said. “So, I’m still going to trust my guys to get open no matter who’s out there. It doesn’t change a whole lot for me as far as going through my reads because I’m just trying to read the defense and find the open guy at the end of the day.

“I think a lot of people may have thought [the offensive success] was just because of a couple of players, but I think that just shows how deep our offense is and how many playmakers we have from top to bottom. There’s always the next man up that’s going to get the job done.”

Of course, an offense like this only works if it has selfless players who commit to working their hardest even if they don’t catch a single pass one week. UF averages around 70 plays per game, and it can sometimes be difficult for a receiver to stay locked in when they know that even on a good day, the ball may only get thrown their way five or six times. However, Mullen doesn’t believe that’s been a problem with this group.

“I think it's a big thing of getting guys to buy-in and believe in what we do,” he said. “And I think you can go watch on Sunday and see the number of offensive players having success at the next level. Not just an individual or one-star player, but the number of receivers and running backs. Those guys get to see how that plays out for them and how it lets them grow and how all those guys bought-in and what it did for them, and it makes it a little bit easier. And then as the season goes on, I think you see early on it's a little bit trickier sometimes. Early on, it's ‘Hey, this guy had all the catches. I didn't have any catches.’ But as the year goes on and now you start seeing the balance of numbers of guys with touchdown catches during the course of the game, I think it makes it a little bit easier.”

Trask’s talent combined with the selflessness at wide receiver has added up to one of the best passing offenses in school history. While Trask shies away from the Heisman conversation, his backup believes he should absolutely be one of the frontrunners.

“I don't think anybody in the country is playing the way he is right now, just the way he's operating and managing the game,” Jones said. “I feel like that's the guy who's going to actually win the Heisman. The things he's doing are crazy. I don't think anybody is playing that well. It's pretty exciting.”

Quick Hitters

  •  Brian Johnson says Emory Jones is a super-intelligent and dynamic player. He's been prepared and played well in his opportunities. Trask is a great example of being ready when your number's called, and that example adds value to the QB room. Jones understands that he's a much player now than he was when he got here.
  • Jones said that he's had negative thoughts before about a lack of playing time, but he tries to remember how Trask stay prepared and his time eventually came. Now, he's trying to pass that on to Anthony Richardson.
  •  Khris Bogle says playing a run-heavy team like Kentucky means they'll have to put more focus on setting the edge and taking care of business upfront.
  • Everything that was said during today’s press-conferences is posted in the We Chomp Chat

Notebook: Trask’s journey comes full circle

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