A few thoughts to jump start your New Year’s Eve:
KYLE TRASK DESERVED BETTER THAN THIS Even though he threw three first quarter interceptions in his final Florida (8-4) football game, don’t blame Kyle Trask for what happened to the Gators in Wednesday night’s Cotton Bowl Game. It’s not his fault that he was playing without his top four receivers, three of whom opted out allegedly to prepare for the NFL Draft rather than play one last game for the coach whose offense showcased them so well that they’ll all be earning serious bucks on Sundays.
Trask could have opted out, too, but he decided to suit up one more time even though it meant throwing to a new batch of receivers, some of whom either left their sticky fingers back in Gainesville or wore gloves coated in grease. Two of those three interceptions are on the receivers, not on Trask. Give him his receivers and you can bet the farm the Gators wouldn’t have gotten blown out 55-20 by Oklahoma (9-2). Given the way the defense played – well, playing is a matter of perspective isn’t it? – there is every good chance the Gators would have still given up a ton of points, but there is also a possibility Trask would have at least made it interesting. He lit up Alabama and you won’t convince me that Oklahoma’s defense is better than the one Trask sliced and diced for 408 yards and three TDs in the SEC Championship Game.
Kyle Trask deserved better than what he got Wednesday night. Much, much better.
As much as I have tried to understand why Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes elected to opt out, right now I’m wondering how they’re going to look themselves in the mirror today and in the future. Maybe they really were afraid they would suffer an injury that would affect their draft status. Maybe, but if they were so afraid of getting hurt, then why didn’t they opt out during the 10 games of the regular season or the SEC Championship Game?
Maybe they were more interested in signing with an agent and getting more spending cash in their pockets than they’ve ever known, enough to hold them over until after they’re drafted and they get that first No Fun League contract. I don’t want to believe that’s the case, but I’m a realist. Money talks, particularly to guys who’ve never had a lot of it and who understand that when they get to the next level the clock starts ticking on a career that isn’t going to last forever.
Whatever the reason they didn’t play, I have to also wonder if they understand that they may have cost Kyle Trask a boatload of money, too? If he had gone out with a flurry against Oklahoma it could have moved him up in the NFL Draft from a marginal first rounder to a solid choice. That he had an ineffective game might even move him down into the second round.
I’m already in the process of getting over the Cotton Bowl. I won’t allow what might have been erase the good memories of Kyle Trask. This game with Oklahoma won’t define him in my memory bank. He should have been allowed to give us one more good memory. That’s not on him. That’s on the opt outs.
OPT OUTS DIDN’T EXACTLY HELP THE DEFENSE Oklahoma averaged 10.5 yards per offensive play against a Florida defense that was missing quite a few opt outs and some who were injured or affected by Covid-19. Even at full strength I’m not at all sure the Gators would have been able to contain Oklahoma for large portions of the game, but to give up 435 rushing yards (10.9 per carry) is absolutely embarrassing. I expected the Gators to have problems with the passing game after what Alabama did to them a couple of weeks ago, but I didn’t think they would give up more than 400 yards on the ground.
Because I am the eternal optimist I have always felt things would get better for the defense, but they didn’t. In the last three games – all of them losses – the defense just seemed to get worse to the point that it’s time to start asking can it get better with Todd Grantham as the defensive coordinator? After the Cotton Bowl I wonder if (1) Dan Mullen fires Todd Grantham; (2) Grantham decides to leave on his own rather than suffer the indignity of getting pink slipped although I have to ask who’s going to pay him $1.8 million a year; (3) Grantham stays but there are some new faces on the defensive staff; (4) Grantham stays and decides he has to scrap his entire defensive philosophy; (5) Mullen tells Grantham he can stay but only if he tosses his defensive playbook and starts over from scratch; and/or (6) there is a parting of the ways who will Mullen bring in to pick up the pieces?
THE FUTURE: EMORY JONES OR ANTHONY RICHARDSON?
Emory Jones is a gifted runner and an adequate passer but is he going to be the Florida quarterback next year or will he back up freshman Anthony Richardson? Jones got the majority of the quarterback snaps in the second half when Mullen decided to sit Trask rather than have his quarterback deal with the continuing humiliation of making good passes only to see the ball dropped or having to rush throws because the protection kept breaking down. Jones finished the game with 60 rushing yards on 10 carries with a long run of 22 yards. He ran for a first half touchdown from a yard out. Jones was 8-16 throwing the ball for 86 yards. Richardson ran three times for 42 yards with a long run of 28 while completing his only pass for 27 yards and a TD to Jordan Pouncey.
Granted, Jones was going against the first team Oklahoma defense for most of his snaps and Richardson went against the backups, but Richardson looked very, very good. Good enough to take the starting job in the spring? And if Richardson takes control of the team in the spring, will Jones hang around or will he put his name in the transfer portal since every player in Division I is free to transfer even before permanent transfer legislation is introduced?
THE FIRST POST-KEYONTAE TEST WENT WELL Florida’s first basketball game in two plus years without Keyontae Johnson went better than expected. Even in years when Vanderbilt (4-3, 0-1 SEC) hasn’t been top tier in the SEC, the Gators (4-1, 1-0 SEC) have had some struggles playing in Nashville at Memorial Gym, but Wednesday night’s 91-72 win was encouraging on a lot of fronts. The Gators shot well, defended well most of the game, and got more productivity from Colin Castleton and Anthony Duruji than anyone except maybe Mike White expected.
Memorial Gym with its strange end zones that provide weird depth perception issues hasn’t always been conducive to good shooting by the Gators, but they hit 61.8% on 34-55 shooting overall and 41.2% from the 3-point line on a 7-17 effort. The Gators shot 53% from the field in the first half, 72% in the second. You win a lot of games if you can shoot like that.
Castleton went off for a career-high 23 points while hitting 11-13 from the field. He had five rebounds and a couple of blocked shots. Duruji, who started at power forward in Johnson’s place, was good for 11 points on 4-5 shooting (1-1 on 3-pointers) to go with five rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals.
White addressed the big games for Castleton and White post game: “I thought it was really big with both of those guys. Colin is very talented. We’ve known that. He has had some huge practices and he and I have talked at length about his opportunities for him moving forward, not just this week but the next couple months. His ceiling is really high and he’s going to end up being a guy down the line will get more touches as he earns more touches. How do you earn more touches? You earn more minutes and you produce. He broke through obviously tonight. He’ll have more of these. He will. I don’t know if we can always expect him to go 11-of-13, but he’s a talented guy. He’s very skilled. I thought he made some decisions on the perimeter that were really good as well. In addition, I thought our guards did a really good job of finding him. And Anthony Duruji – yes, they’re very close. Anthony would be the first one to tell you that he struggled a bit to this point but not for a lack of effort or character. It’s really nice to see them break through together, especially Duruji because Colin has kind of had some moments at least. Duruji was terrific. To me, his stat line doesn’t show how well he played. He did have three blocks, but I thought he altered some shots and did a really good job with some ball screen defense and guarding some smaller, quicker guys. Did a really good job of moving his feet I thought.”
Besides Castleton and Duruji, the Gators got double figures scoring from Scottie Lewis (16 points, five rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots, one steal), Tyree Appleby (13 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals) and Noah Locke (10 points, two rebounds, one assist, two blocked shots, one steal). Tre Mann scored nine points, but led the team with eight rebounds to go with four assists.
Next up for the Gators is LSU (6-1, 1-0 SEC) at the O-Dome Saturday afternoon.
SEC WEDNESDAY NIGHT BASKETBALL RESULTS FLORIDA (4-1, 1-0 SEC) 91, Vanderbilt (4-3, 0-1 SEC) 72 #7 Tennessee (7-0, 1-0 SEC) 73, #12 Missouri (6-1, 0-1 SEC) 53 Mississippi State (6-3, 1-0 SEC) 83, Georgia (7-1, 0-1 SEC) 73 Arkansas (9-0, 1-0 SEC) 97, Auburn (6-3, 0-1 SEC) 85
ONE LAST PITHY THOUGHT: What happened to the Gators with all the opt-outs turning the team into a shell of what it was during the regular season is going to be repeated on a more regular basis if the people in charge of college football don’t hurry up and do something. Doubling the number of teams in the College Football Playoff would certainly help eight teams but what about the teams that aren’t involved in the playoff but are bowl eligible? How about paying players instead of giving them gifts that they’re going to sell anyway? Maybe given an extra $5,000 to seniors as a thank you? And for those in the playoff $5,000 for the quarterfinals, $7,500 for the semifinals and $10,000 for the championship game? Networks pay an exorbitant amount of money for broadcast rights to bowl games and the playoff games. If they want quality games in the future, then they need to pony up.