Kyle Trask is having the season of dreams
Andy: The Kyle Trask experience has produced another experience for Florida Gators media members in 2020: Frantically researching this or that to keep up with Trask’s torrid pace of rewriting school, SEC, and potentially NCAA record book.
The one number that stuck out to me on Satuday night was 39 — the number of passing touchdowns Danny Wuerffel threw in 1996, en route to his Heisman Trophy and, eventually, a Florida national championship.
Through six games, all of them against SEC foes, Kyle Trask has thrown 28 touchdown passes. It is very, very likely that he is not just going to break Wuerffel’s record, but obliterate it.
And that’s the thing about this season Trask is having: By the numbers alone, it would be by far the greatest any quarterback has had at a school that has erected three statues to Heisman-winning quarterbacks. In a 12-game season, he’d be on pace to throw for 4,342 yards, 56 touchdowns, and six interceptions, all while completing 70 percent of his passes and utterly destroying Tim Tebow’s passer efficiency mark (Trask is at 197.52, Tebow finished 2009 at 164.17, the nation’s best number).
“Trask For Heisman” is going to be very popular over the next several weeks because Florida is basically through what should have been the most competitive portion of its season: Georgia and Arkansas are behind Trask and this team now, and thus two of the most formidable defenses he was set to see have been seared. The remaining opponents shouldn’t pose too much opposition: While Kentucky boasts the SEC’s top pass defense, the rest of the remaining Florida slate is no better than sixth in the league in that category, and final regular season foe LSU is historically bad.
Trask might still not win the Heisman, because he’s not alone in putting up mind-bending numbers at QB. (You know that Justin Fields has as many touchdowns as incompletions through three games? Kirby Smart might like to know that.) And if there isn’t a Heisman awarded to him, there probably shouldn’t be a statue for him — Chris Leak, after all, won a national title as a starting QB, but he’s not bronzed out in front of The Swamp.
But he’s going to be in consideration at a minimum, and is fairly likely to be a finalist. And, more importantly, what Trask is doing is the stuff of dreams. Celebrate it while you can.
No Kyle Pitts? No problem
Chris: Kyle Pitts has been one of the best players in all of college football. Few players have played better than the Philadelphia native in 2020, with an unreal eight touchdowns in five games. Beyond stats, it’s clear that Pitts is one of the most gifted athletes in the country and will almost certainly be playing on Sundays. When Pitts went down against Georgia, the high-flying Florida offense lost its best weapon, and when that offense didn’t score a touchdown in the second half against the Dawgs, the foundation for concern trolling was laid.
One full game later, it’s pretty clear that it hasn’t slowed down at all.
Without a player as dynamic as Pitts, players needed to step up for the Gators offense; more than a few answered that call. Trevon Grimes had arguably his best game of the year with six catches for 109 yards and a pair of scores, while Justin Shorter and Jacob Copeland also chipped in with big touchdowns — especially Shorter who channeled his inner Kyle Pitts on an incredible effort to high-point the ball over a defender. The tight end position still contributed in spite of Pitt’s absence, with Keon Zipperer catching a pair of touchdowns as well.
And what Florida showed against Arkansas is that no one playmaker makes or breaks this team. Trask will find the open man no matter who it is. Even with Kadarius Toney, the team’s second best playmaker thus far, being held fairly silent (56 yards on eight touches), and even without their best player, Florida had its best scoring output of the season.
We’ll see if Pitts is available again down the stretch — obviously, in regards to a concussion, it’s much better to be safe than sorry. Hopefully, he will be back given what an amazing player he is.
But the Gators can move the ball just fine without him.
Florida’s offense finally closed a game
Chris: One of my biggest gripes with Florida in 2020 is how the Gators have closed out games. Against Texas A&M, and even against Georgia or South Carolina, the Florida offense has really stalled out in the second half. And when the Gators have held leads in the second half, they have a tendency to really lose their edge, seen in things like long touchdown drives given up in garbage time and a consistent struggle to assert their will in the run game, which has stalled production down the stretch.
Against Georgia, things almost got hairy down the stretch as a much more conservative approach did next to nothing for much of the second half. Fortunately for Florida, Georgia is laughably incompetent offensively so it didn’t cost them in that game. But it did against Texas A&M, and the threat of a second-half swoon still looms for this team.
That said, Saturday was the first time I really thought the Florida offense finished a game. Three of its five drives in the second half (excluding last play) ended in a touchdown, and Florida — which did do a better job of running the ball when Arkansas knew the run was coming — succeeded because of its insistence on throwing the ball. Mullen played far less conservative ball against the Hogs, even letting Emory Jones run a relatively legit offensive set with the second string. And this all happened following a sluggish first drive after halftime, which had me worried that things would stall once again.
But, credit to it, the offense put together arguably its best showing in a second half. It was an excellent way to close a blowout and leave no doubts.
Is Florida’s pass rush getting rhythm?
Chris: Early in the season, Florida was generating next to no pressure on the quarterback that the quarterback himself did not create. This issue came to a head against Texas A&M, as Todd Grantham’s defense failed to register a sack and made life far too easy for a cool and composed Kellen Mond and the Aggies.
Thankfully, Grantham has his defensive front performing much better as of late.
Four sacks against Missouri and three against Georgia had the team heading in the right direction and that continued against the Razorbacks. Florida’s front four did not make things easy for Feleipe Franks on his return to Gainesville, sacking him four times on the night, and repeatedly collapsing the pocket and putting hits on the lanky Franks, with one Brenton Cox pressure even resulting in a (hopefully minor) injury.
To be clear, Florida’s defense is still very bad at enough times that it’s probably fair to call it bad overall. But if its playmakers can make enough big plays, be they sacks or turnovers like the scoop and score Zachary Carter got in the fourth quarter of this game, it could be enough to make this team a real contender.
A youth movement could help the Gators defense
Andy: Florida’s defense still makes a ton of mistakes — more than anyone is really comfortable with, given the stakes of this season’s misses. A good defense might have Florida looking like a College Football Playoff favorite; the Gators’ mediocre-to-bad one has already cost them one game, and could reduce them from contender to pretender on one inauspicious Saturday.
But Florida does still have a possible solution to its woes: Playing the kids.
What we’ve seen from Florida’s defensive reserves leaves some reason for hope that some of the Gators’ defensive problems are dependent on personnel — and thus soluble with substitutions. When Ty’Ron Hopper comes in and flies around for a series, it leaves the plays on which Mohamoud Diabate is simply too small to play linebacker looking strange; the same goes for some of the snaps on which Princely Umanmielen shows startling burst off the edge, or ones on which Tre’Vez Johnson wraps up another ball-carrier.
Florida is also likely set to play some blowouts — knock on wood, sure, but Florida’s offense renders a lot of things possible — in the coming weeks. It would make a lot of sense for the Gators to rotate heavily, take some lumps, and come away with an idea of who their best 13 to 15 defenders actually are before a potential heavyweight bout with Alabama — especially as playing this year doesn’t really count toward eligibility clocks.
Will we actually see such a shift toward underclassmen? I don’t know. But I’d like to.
The future is bright with Emory Jones
Chris: Maybe I’m overreacting to a barely-more-than-cameo-length appearance on what was undoubtedly Trask’s night, but I thought I watched an incredibly fascinating and impressive showing from Emory Jones. He made his impact felt before garbage time with a pair of tough runs in his quarterback run package in the third quarter, but when he spelled for Trask late in the game, he was even better. A 12-play, six-minute long touchdown drive — not coincidentally coming in a perfect late-game drain-the-clock scenario — showed glimpses of a post-Trask world, and early returns are promising.
Jones, who is known as more of a runner, displayed a very capable arm with several good passes, including a nice deep ball to Rick Wells that was just barely knocked away by a defender defensive back. Emory Jones finished the drive by zipping a fine throw to freshman Xzavier Henderson for a touchdown, capping off a two-score night for the young quarterback.
The hope with Jones is as it has been since the guy who started for Arkansas on Saturday was starting for Florida: When that QB1 moves on to greener pastures, Jones will be the guy to fill his shoes. In stints short and long, he’s showed he’s plenty capable.
Emory Jones isn’t Kyle Trask, for better and for worse. Still, he’s good enough to confidently assume the Florida offense can continue to be very good in the near future.