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Florida vs. Tennessee, Wednesday Afternoon Post: Notes from a blowout

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What does Kyle Trask do that Feleipe Franks didn’t? And is Tennessee bad enough for a Florida victory to be fool’s gold?

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There is no rivalry between the Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers on the football field at this point. That was made clear by Florida’s 34-3 rout of the Vols on Saturday.

What else there was to learn from one of the SEC’s better teams beating perhaps its worst is a lot harder to scry.

Here’s our “Sunday” “morning” takeaways from this game, which still come without having given it or its highlights a second viewing despite it currently being Wednesday afternoon.

Playing from in front is more fun!

Florida’s first drive:

  • Lamical Perine rush for three yards
  • Kyle Trask pass to Trevon Grimes for 43 yards, first down
  • Perine rush for two yards
  • Trask run for eight yards, first down
  • Trask pass for 19 yards to Kyle Pitts, touchdown

That took 2:16. It put Florida up 7-0. It was the fastest Florida’s offense has sprinted out to a 7-0 lead under Dan Mullen, beating the swiftness of the 7-0 lead staked by its first touchdown against Charleston Southern to open the 2018 season by four seconds of game clock and only trailing the first-play pick-six by Chauncey Gardner-Johnson — believed to be the earliest touchdown in Florida history — against Idaho late last fall for overall alacrity.

And it was easy. The Perine runs weren’t exactly gashing ones, but Trask arguably underthrew Grimes, met little resistance on his run, and found a wide-open Pitts (with a slightly higher pass than was necessary) with room to run into the painted area.

That drive left the clear impression that Tennessee was outclassed, and even though the game as a whole didn’t quite follow up on the potential for a 50-point rout — with Mullen’s machinations probably the primary culprit — the outcome was never really in doubt.

Florida’s ceiling may or may not be different without Feleipe Franks

I was cautious in writing about Trask vis-à-vis Franks last week.

But you are fooling yourself if you think what Trask did on this night is substantially better than what Franks can do at his peak.

We saw Trask throw some accurate passes, but we also saw some floaters, and some of the same locking on to receivers that Franks has done to derision for years. We did not see any of the gorgeous deep balls that Franks has uncorked from time to time — including tonight, on a strike that was forgotten swiftly because of a strip-sack that wasn’t primarily Franks’s fault on the very next play — from Trask, though there’s still a chance that we will. And what we saw from Trask the runner, even given the brilliance of that option pitch, does not mark him as Franks’s superior on the hoof.

At best, if you’re trying to argue that Trask was better last night that Franks has ever been, you’re using a small sample size of him making good throws to open receivers who subsequently made plays — recall Kyle Pitts’s superb catch-and-run, for example — and not making any bad mistakes, though he could’ve thrown a pick-two on a two-point conversion.

And despite a larger sample size (and arguably better play) against Tennessee, I still think the crux of my argument — that Trask and Franks are different enough to have different ceilings and produce different ones for Florida — is true.

But I also think we can agree that:

  • It’s possible that Trask’s ceiling is higher than Franks’s.
  • It’s possible that Trask’s skill set matches the personnel around him better than Franks’s did.
  • There may ultimately be a negligible drop-off or delta from Franks to Trask.

Through six-ish quarters, what Trask most obviously seems to do differently from Franks is process his options on the field swiftly. Franks, three years into starting, was still maddening some fans by locking on to receivers and going through progressions very slowly; Trask did a little of the former against Tennessee, but it could be excused as first-start stuff, and he impressed by not really doing the latter all that much — if anything, he made decisions too rashly (while locking on to receivers) and threw his two decisions as a result.

Generally, however, the ball distribution against Tennessee felt like that of a quarterback playing point guard and trying to give the ball to playmakers in space — and Franks, maybe more capable of making flashy or outlet passes, has rarely had outings so smooth. (To be fair, though, his game against Tennessee-Martin was smoother than Trask’s against Tennessee.)

But what I’ve felt watching Trask get his first real burn after watching Franks for years is that they present more similarities than differences. Trask ran as effectively (and ineffectively, on the short-yardage QB run stuff that Dan Mullen a) loves and b) ought to mothball at least for this year) as Franks has in certain contexts, and hit a fair few different sorts of throws that marked his arm as capable of doing at least most of what Franks does. He’s also big and burly like Franks, with a body that should be able to take at least some of the wear and tear of football.

I would submit that arm strength is an area where Trask clearly trails Franks, and that I think I’d still prefer Franks scrambling to what little we’ve seen of Trask doing it. But mostly, I think Trask is going to do give Florida something like 75 percent to 115 percent of what Franks gave, with that percentage very much variable on a week-to-week basis because of inexperience and the difficulty level presented by opponents.

That’s not bad, not at all. But we’re a long ways from being able to say whether it’s going to ultimately be good that Florida lost its starting quarterback, and I’m also not exactly bullish on the idea that Franks getting hurt will reveal Florida’s coaches to have been fools for playing him in front of Trask all along.

Tennessee is wretched enough to make me worry about fool’s gold

And then there’s this: That Tennessee team was maybe the worst I have seen in all my years of watching Florida-Tennessee games.

The Gators’ margin of victory — 31 points — only tied for the second-largest since the annual Florida-Tennessee games began, but it was a margin accrued by a good-but-maybe-not-actually-top-10 Florida team against a bad Tennessee team. The 1994 Gators blanked a Tennessee that would go on to an 8-4 record by a 31-0 count; 2007 Florida stomped its corresponding Tennessee team 59-20, and yet those Vols went on to go 10-4.

This Tennessee team may have to get lucky to go 4-8.

It has already burned two non-conference chances for wins and plays not-a-pushover UAB later this year, gets Mississippi State as its rotating SEC West opponent, and is probably only going to be favored against South Carolina (maybe), UAB, and Vanderbilt over its final 10 games.

Oh, and by the time that South Carolina game rolls around, the Vols are probably going to be 1-6 — and may well be coached by Phillip Fulmer, whose slow-motion coup is so obvious to the rest of the college football world that Pete Thamel can write about it at length and still not seem to be breaking news or shifting perceptions.

I’m not sure what Tennessee does — or is even supposed to do — well. Jarrett Guarantano has a live arm that doesn’t seem all that accurate. Same goes for Brian Maurer. Jauan Jennings is thus wasting away in this offense, and the same is probably true to some degree of Ty Chandler and Eric Gray.

And on defense? Tennessee was so desperate for help that it played Bryce Thompson — whose domestic assault charge was apparently simultaneously so worrisome as to merit a three-game suspension and so flimsy (thanks to Thompson’s girlfriend going to bat for him) that it was dismissed on Monday — only to see his most memorable contribution to the game be getting stiff-armed to the ground by Pitts on a slant.

I guess the Vols gummed up Florida’s running game pretty well. But so has every team Florida has seen except Tennessee-Martin — so, uh, what does that prove?

So I am hesitant to look at anything Florida did well in this game and decree it a result of Florida being good and not Tennessee being godawful. And while that may not feel all that fair — surely, some of Trask being poised is about his innate poise, rather than the Vols’ inability to rattle him; surely, some of Florida’s defense continuing to improve is about that defense sharpening techniques and not Tennessee being a very resistible force — I would rather err on the side of caution in not taking too much from this game.