Updated: Sep 22, 2019
Spectacular it wasn't but spectacular wasn't necessary Saturday afternoon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. If you're looking to attach a label to 9th-ranked Florida's 34-3 win over the Tennessee Vols (1-3, 0-1 SEC) then maybe workmanlike fits best. The Gators (4-0, 2-0 SEC) came to work and did all the things that were necessary to make Kyle Trask's first start at quarterback since he was in the ninth grade in Manvel, Texas a success.
Trask made his share of good plays, completing 20-28 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns, but he also fumbled the ball away once when sacked and he threw a couple of interceptions, the first he's thrown since that freshman year in Texas some six years ago. Trask did enough good things to give the impression that he will get better with experience. Although he didn't make all that many mistakes, the ones he did make were the kind that Dan Mullen believes can be corrected.
Mullen's assessment went like this: “The only play that matters is the next play. Don't worry about all the other things, just worry about being prepared and he did that.”
Trask obviously spent the week leading up to the Tennessee game having to deal with media, something he never had to do as the backup, but he handled that well enough that he didn't feel particularly distracted. Essentially he just tuned out everything and everybody while doing what he's been doing every week since he arrived in Gainesville and that's preparing to play as if he's the starting quarterback. Instead of worrying that maybe he would never get a chance to prove he could get the job done, Trask never lost faith in himself and was willing to wait his turn.
Perhaps that seems a little silly for a guy who didn't even start for his high school team. Prior to last week when he came off the bench to lead the Gators on a 19-0 run that turned a 21-10 deficit into a 29-21 SEC win, Trask had thrown fewer than 30 passes in three years at UF. That might have discouraged some people and convinced them that a transfer was in the cards. For others it might have been a slacker's approach of merely going through the motions but Trask took his role as the Florida backup quite seriously. That explains why he played with such poise when he had to take over for injured Feleipe Franks up in Lexington.
It also goes a long way explaining why Trask was more than adequate Saturday when he not only became 1-0 as a Division I college football starting quarterback but notched a Southeastern Conference win to boot. In explaining how he felt about that accomplishment post game, Trask modestly deferred praise to his teammates and said for him it was simply a matter of being ready when his number was finally called.
For the most part, Trask's first start was filled with made good decisions and accurate throws. He marched the Gators down the field on Florida's first possession of the game, hitting both his passes for 62 of the 75 yards on the scoring drive and converting a run pass option into an eight-yard gain on the ground. As for the rest of the game, he wore the Vols out in the middle of the field and showed the patience necessary to let his receivers make their breaks and get separation into the soft spot of the Tennessee two-deep coverage. The touchdowns covered 19 yards to Kyle Pitts and 29 yards to Freddie Swain. He spread the ball around to nine different receivers.
If Trask had it all to do over again, he wouldn't have made the two throws that resulted in interceptions. Neither of the throws was particularly bad but they were both made against tight coverage. Trask explained that he thought on both throws he had a good matchup so he tried to fit the ball in and got burned.
Mullen hates turnovers but the two picks he can live with. Mullen called them coachable moments, explaining, “I'm upset about an interception if he throws it and hits a DB in the chest because that's like, 'you know, he was standing there?'”
The fumble? That's another story altogether. Maybe Mullen lives with a pick when it actually has a chance for a completion, but fumbles are all about protecting the football and mistakes caused by an inability to protect the football will be dealt with in practice. It won't be pleasant.
If there is one thing that the stats don't tell but was obvious about Trask it is that he doesn't seem to get caught up in the moment. He's neither too high when he does something well or too low when he makes a mistake. It's that move on to the next play attitude, something you'll find in the better quarterbacks. They tend to have short term memories when it comes to their mistakes and long term memories when it comes to exploiting mistakes and matchups by the other guys.
The running game didn't exactly conjure up memories of the day when the Gators had Neal Anderson, John L. Williams and Lorenzo Hampton wearing people out but it showed the most positive signs of life this season in the fourth quarter when the Gators ran for 71 of the 135 yards they gained on the ground agaisnt the Vols. A 135-yard game might not seem like much, but when you've struggled as much as the Gators have with the ground game this year, that is a very positive development.
Over on the defensive side, the Gators kept the Vols out of the end zone and offset their own three turnovers by picking off three Tennessee passes and recovering a fumble. The Gators held Tennessee to 239 total yards, only 88 on the ground.
If there was a real star on the defensive side of the ball it was Louisville grad transfer Jonathan Greenard, who had a sack, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and three passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. As much as Tennessee tried to scheme around Greenard, he was still able to make plays and was a constant thorn in Tennessee's side.
While no one will ever mistake this as spectacular, it's a good solid win, filled with more good plays than bad and of the bad plays, nothing so glaring to create a red flag signaling that something very seriously is wrong. When you consider the Gators are unbeaten and have a 2-0 start in the Southeastern Conference, solid is something you can live with, especially with a quarterback who's made his first start and with a defense that held an SEC opponent without a touchdown.