The Sunday Evening Quarterback: October 20, 2019


Late in the second quarter after a three-and-out that included a sack, a delay of game penalty and a rather awkward looking option play on third down and an overnight hike, Dan Mullen marched toward Kyle Trask as he came off the field. Never one to hide his emotions when it comes to his quarterbacks, Mullen was in one of Trask's ears and then the other. He stepped back, shrugged his shoulders and gestured, hands out, something to the likes of “What the hell were you thinking?” Something similar happened again in the third quarter. Trask didn't make the right decision and Mullen was on his case again, there for the whole world to see.

The same Kyle Trask who was so frustratingly inconsistent in the first two-and-a-half quarters got it going and in the fourth quarter threw three of his career-high four touchdown passes to give the Gators (7-1, 4-1 SEC) a critical road win, the first of what is essentially a four-game playoff for a trip to Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference Championship game.

Here is what we learned from the inconsistent Trask of the first two-and-a-half quarters that had Mullen shaking his head and wondering if aliens had kidnapped his quarterback and the Trask who made all the right throws to give the Gators a 38-27 win in Columbia. First off, Trask has a very thick skin and understands this is business, it isn't personal. Second, Trask is very coachable and learns from his mistakes even during the course of a game. Third, Trask is really, really good in the fourth quarter when the Gators need him most.

Mullen doesn't hide the fact that he's tough on his quarterbacks. Always has been, always will be. When he yells, screams and questions their judgment he's not belittling or demeaning them but dealing out some tough love. He knows his quarterbacks have been coached better. He knows they can play better, otherwise they wouldn't be playing. The quarterback who can take it when Mullen yells and screams is the quarterback who will have success pounded into him. It's almost as if Mullen is sometimes telling his quarterback I'm going to make you succeed in spite of yourself; you have no choice in this matter!

Trask does make mistakes, which is only natural when you consider Saturday's start against South Carolina was the fifth of his college football career and he's starting for the first time since he was a 14-year-old freshman in Manvel, Texas. From an experience standpoint, it's surprising that he doesn't make more mistakes all things considered. It is a very good sign that he rarely repeats the same mistake. After getting dressed down on the sideline Saturday against South Carolina, Trask got coached up by Brian Johnson. The way Trask played in the fourth quarter is evidence that he learns his lessons during the game and puts them into action.

This marked the second fourth quarter rally Trask has led. The first was against Kentucky when he came off the bench cold to lead the Gators to 19 consecutive points to lead the Gators back from a 21-10 deficit to a 29-21 victory. Trask was 9-13 for 126 yards plus he ran for a touchdown, made a clutch pitch to Lamical Perine on an option play for another TD and then executed the fake on a jet sweep so perfectly that it was too late for Kentucky to catch Josh Hammond when he turned upfield on his way to a 76-yard touchdown.

Against South Carolina, the Gators were trailing 20-17 in the fourth quarter when Trask got it going. While leading the Gators to touchdowns on three consecutive drives, Trask was 5-6 passing for 64 yards and three touchdowns. He finished the game 21-33 for 200 yards and four touchdowns.

The Gators have outscored opponents 85-21 in the fourth quarter of games dating back to the season opener with Miami. Starting with the Kentucky game when Trask took over, the Gators have outscored opponents 64-14.

For the season, Trask is 114-169 passing (67.46%) for 1,391 yards (8.23 per attempt). He's thrown for 14 touchdown passes with only four interceptions. In his five SEC games, Trask is 92-144 (63.8%) for 1,163 yards (8.07 per attempt) with 13 touchdown passes and four interceptions. To put it in proper perspective, Trask has the highest completion percentage and average per attempt of any UF quarterback since Tebow graduated and is second only to Feleipe Franks' 24 touchdown passes in 13 games in 2018.

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When Dameon Pierce broke loose for a 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, it marked the third time this season the Gators have had a touchdown run of 75 or more yards, which is a school record. The Gators have four touchdown runs of 30 or more yards this season. To put that in perspective, during the Old Yeller Error (oops era), the Gators had two touchdown runs of 30 or more yards. The Gators had five touchdown runs in excess of 30 yards in 2014.

The big plays in the running game tend to overshadow the fact Florida is averaging just 142.38 yards per game on the ground and only 4.3 yards per carry. There are those who look at the numbers and lament the “lack” of a running game, but if you go simply by the numbers then you're missing the bigger picture. For that, take a look at Florida's passing numbers. The Gators are averaging 277.3 passing yards per game, which is the most since 2001 when Rex Grossman and the Gators averaged 405.2 per game.

The Gators had a truly balanced attack last year when they averaged 213.15 yards per game rushing and 213.5 yards passing. We could point out the fact the 2018 team had an offensive line that had had four veteran starters and the 2019 O-line only has one returning starter (center Nick Buchanan). That might explain some of the inconsistency in the running game this year but even with more veterans on the line, I'm pretty sure the Gators would still be throwing the ball downfield much more than they did last year. Last season, the Gators really didn't have the personnel to take as many shots downfield as this season.

I attribute the better passing numbers to two things: (1) Mullen recognizes that the strength of the team is the receivers and (2) Trask is better and more accurate downfield passer than Franks.

The Gators have so many exceptional receivers that it's impossible for opponents to target one and shut down the passing game. Shut down one and someone else simply emerges. Saturday, redshirt freshman Jacob Copeland had the big day with three catches for 89 yards including a 37-yard TDP from Trask in the second quarter. Another reason the passing game is so good is the emergence of tight end Kyle Pitts, who has 35 catches for 391 yards and four touchdowns through eight games. Van Jefferson, who has 27 catches for 331 yards and three touchdowns, was last season's leading receiver with 35 catches for 503 yards and six touchdowns. So far, 10 Gators have at least one touchdown catch and only one is a running back.

Trask may not have the cannon of an arm that Franks has, but it's strong enough. He's more accurate than Franks ever was plus he sees the field a lot better. Whereas Franks tends to lock on to one receiver then trust his arm to fit a throw into a very tight window, Trask is more likely to avoid the kind of passes that might be intercepted if they're just a hair off target. That's not to say he's not an accurate downfield thrower because he is. He's got more touch on the ball than Franks, doesn't make nearly as many risky throws and is far more likely to find a secondary receiver if the primary guy is covered up.

Now some kudos for the offensive line. They've given up 16 sacks this season and while they gave up only 18 in 13 games last year, there wasn't nearly the emphasis on the downfield passing game in 2018 as there is now. More emphasis on throwing means the O-line has to spend far more time in practice working on pass blocking at the expense of run blocking. It is a tradeoff and it goes back to the fact that Mullen is playing to the team strength. If the team strength were run blocking and dazzling running backs, you can bet the Gators would spend more of their time working on the running game in practice.

There is one more thing to point out about the 16 sacks. Franks was such a running threat last year that he often took off running to avoid getting nailed. Trask moves in the pocket well, and he is quite capable of getting a 4-8 yard gain on occasions but he's never going to scare people with his speed or elusiveness. Trask hangs in the pocket sometimes a little bit longer than Mullen would like, but that alarm clock in his head that says unload the ball is getting more precise and Trask is showing the ability to dump the ball off.

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Florida is 7-1, 4-1 in SEC play. Three more wins and the Gators will win the SEC East and make it to Atlanta so each of the next three games – Georgia (November 2 in Jacksonville), Vanderbilt (November 9 at The Swamp) and Missouri (November 16) – are the equivalent of elimination games. Here is why you should be optimistic about Florida's chances to go 3-0 to win the East. There is every good chance that Florida will be closer to full strength than at any time this season. Yes, the Gators are banged up now, but they have a week off before they begin preparation for the Georgia game.

Imagine Florida taking the field against Georgia with a healthy Kadarius Toney on the offensive side of the ball and Jonathan Greenard and Jabari Zuniga fairly close to 100% and able to collapse the Georgia pocket off the edge. If these three guys are ready to go, I love Florida's chances.

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