Florida football score, highlights, takeaways: No. 9 Gators survive Kentucky behind Kyle Trask

By Adam Silverstein
September 15, 2019
Florida football score, highlights, takeaways: No. 9 Gators survive Kentucky behind Kyle Trask

Image Credit: Twitter / GatorsFB

It looked like the Florida Gators were toast. Down 11 late in the third quarter on the road against the Kentucky Wildcats, it seemed as if No. 9 Florida was being beaten in every phase of the game. There was little fight from the Gators and just as much reason to believe they would avoid dropping consecutive games to the Wildcats for the first time since 1976-77.

And then something terrible happened. Redshirt junior quarterback Feleipe Franks suffered a gruesome dislocated ankle. Depressed and worried for their teammate, Florida (3-0, 1-0 SEC) somehow gutted it up and rallied behind his classmate and backup Kyle Trask. It rattled off 19 unanswered points to overcome its own flaws and prevail over Kentucky (2-1, 0-1 SEC) for the 32nd time in the last 33 meetings between the teams.

“We found a way to win, and we didn’t do that last year, and that’s a big win,” said head coach Dan Mullen after the game. “That’s an excellent football team. Hard-pressed to tell me there’s 25 better teams in the country than Kentucky. …

“I learned we still got a long way to go. I think Kentucky is an excellent football team. We came on the road and got into a very tough environment; we came and got a big time win. I think, when dealing with adversity, we found a way to win. We’ve had a couple of tough games, and we’ve been in season five weeks, and we’ve played one game in The Swamp, and we’ve been in tough environment against good football teams and we’ve found ways to win. I think you can build a lot off of that. We need to get healthy. Eventually, we’ll build up the depth to get through some of this. We get to go to The Swamp for the next three weeks; we get to be home. Next week, I know it’s an earlier kick, but we need 90,000 of Gator Nation making that place just crazy.”

How did that happen? What does it mean for the Gators going forward following another uneven performance, now with their starting quarterback out for the season? Let’s break down the Florida-Kentucky game.

1. Trask was an answer but may not be the answer: There is no discounting what Trask did on Saturday night replacing Franks and leading the Gators from an 11-point deficit to an eight-point win. Florida fans desperate for a starting quarterback they can believe in will be quick to anoint Trask — after all, prior to his injury, Franks was again unimpressive with two early turnovers that put UF in a deficit — but that’s a rush to judgement. Trask was fantastic in place of Franks, completing 9-of-13 passes for 126 yards with a 4-yard rushing go-ahead rushing touchdown to boot. But he also got protection that Franks did not, turnovers and defensive stops that Franks did not, and that’s not to mention a chance to throw the ball against a young, depleted secondary that did not prepare for him in the game.

None of this is to say Trask will not suddenly rocket the Gators into the College Football Playoff a few months from now. But any level-headed spectator is aware that Florida has problems beyond the quarterback position — particularly up front — and Trask will now face the pressure and opportunity of leading this team in Franks’ stead. It’s clear that the Gators rallied around Trask, and Mullen was effusive in his praise of him after the game.

“[This is] what we expect from him. Everyone gets on you [about the backup quarterback]. Our job is to develop three starters. I think we have three starting quarterbacks in our group,” Mullen told ESPN after the game. “… Kyle has been waiting for this moment. The team believes in him. He came in and played that way. … You don’t see guys like him grow, develop, believe in their school [and stay]. … Your opportunity comes, you take advantage of it. … Now everybody gets to see the type of quarterback we knew he was the entire time.”

Still, that does not mean Florida is completely Trask’s team. In fact, Mullen admitted after the game that he had plans to play redshirt freshman Emory Jones. However, the flow of the game and success the Gators were having with Trask dropping back changed his plans.

“We were having so much success throwing the ball, and I know Emory’s got such a great arm talent, [but] Kyle’s just been in some of those situations before. Especially at that point when we’re kind of more in a drop back, Emory makes you a little nervous because of the run-play action and all that stuff he can bring to the table, a little more drop back roll,” Mullen said. “Kyle was kind of hot, so we just kind of stuck with it. I had a couple of things for Emory to get him in, and we just kind of stuck with it with Kyle as he was rolling. But moving forward, I mean honestly, we’re going to play both guys.”

2. The running game is a problem: Pulling out the insane 76-yard rushing touchdown by senior wide receiver Josh Hammond that iced the game late in the fourth quarter, Florida netted 62 yards on 26 carries, good for 2.4 yards per attempt. Senior running back Lamical Perine averaged 1.9 yards on 14 carries. This after UF averaged 1.8 yards per carry as a team against Miami in Week Zero. The offensive line was abysmal opening rushing lanes and holding blocks early. It committed two holding penalties on would-be Franks touchdown runs in the first half. On other occasions, it let defensive ends free to sack Franks and struggled in pass protection. It solidified as the game went on and some changes were made to its structure, but if the Gators cannot shore it up for next week and going forward, they’re going to struggle against better competition.

3. The secondary looked better than it played: You can blame it on a favorable matchup for Kentucky, but with junior cornerback C.J. Henderson sidelined, it was clear that Florida was vulnerable on the back end. Junior CB Marco Wilson struggled against Ahmad Wagner, and Lynn Bowden seemingly got whatever he wanted for the Wildcats. Yes, junior safety Shawn Davis showed out with two interceptions (one with a 72-yard return) — and freshman CB Kaiir Elam added another in the final seconds — but those last two were gimmies and the unit — not to mention Florida linebackers, who were rough in coverage — still allowed 267 passing yards and two touchdowns through the air. Just like the offensive line, this secondary is going to see far better quarterback as the season progresses, and the Gators really need to see some improvement here if they plan to live up to their DBU moniker.

“All we said was, ‘We just got to get three-and-outs, create turnovers for the offense. Give the offense the ball and just keep making big plays, and we’re going to win the game,'” Davis said of the team’s mindset being down 11. “We never had doubt of us losing the game; we always had in our mind that we were going to win the game.”

4. Still, the defense stepped up again (late): For as poorly as the Florida defense played through the first three quarters — and it did, as evidenced by it allowing third-down conversions of 21, 8 and 9 yards for an early game-tying Kentucky touchdown in the first quarter — it really left its mark in crunch time. The Gators allowed the Wildcats to convert seven of their first nine third-down attempts on the game but held the hosts to just one of their last six. “We were really bad on third own all night long on defense until we needed to be good. And we found a way to be good at the end,” Mullen said.

While it was not a high-sack or tackle-for-loss game, the defensive front stopped some big runs late in the game — junior linebacker David Reese had two consecutively to force a turnover on downs in the third quarter — and created pressure for the secondary to nab the aforementioned three interceptions. And this came with senior defensive end Jabari Zuniga sidelined for most of the game with an ankle injury he suffered in the first quarter. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham deserves his share of criticism for being outflanked most of the first 45 minutes, but his unit did come through when it counted.

“Mainly it was just, I feel like we were trying to think too much instead of just playing football,” said senior transfer LB Jonathan Greenard. “It came from pass rushing, we weren’t getting back there like we wanted to, we weren’t getting the push up front like we wanted to. Secondary, we had to tackle and make the big plays. Just plays we can control, little thing that we already went over, we just had to put it into play.”

5. This was a wild one: As if a Florida-Kentucky game over the last few years could be anything but crazy. Here’s some stuff that happened during the game.

  • At one point in the first half, both teams had a player ejected for targeting while their quarterbacks had both thrown an interception and lost of a fumble.
  • Ultimately, there were three players ejected for targeting in the game — all legitimate — with junior safety Donovan Stiner out for the first half against Tennessee next week.
  • The Gators saw two potential Franks rushing touchdowns called back with holding penalties (one was eventually scored anyway, the other resulted in a missed chip-shot 27-yard field goal by sophomore Evan McPherson). McPherson somewhat redeemed himself with an important 32-yarder in the third quarter.
  • Florida actually had three red zone penalties with an offensive pass interference call pushing back a potential TD drive that resulted in the McPherson make.
  • Following his second interception, Davis was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for celebrating with his team still trailing.
  • The Gators failed on a pair of two-point conversion attempts.
  • Mullen appeared to mishandle the clock late, wasting 30 seconds by not calling a timeout as UK was trying to run it down.
  • The Wildcats missed a 34-yard field goal wide right, keeping the score 22-21 late before Hammond iced the game.

6. Odds and ends: Florida improved to 52-18 all-time against Kentucky with a 32-1 record in the teams’ last 33 meetings and a 38-2 mark in the last 40 matchups … the Gators are 22-10 in Lexington with 16 straight wins … UF has not lost back-to-back games to UK since 1976-77 … Florida is 10-2 vs. Kentucky when the teams open SEC play against one another … the Gators have won seven straight games for the first time since 2014-15 … Florida is 10-2 against unranked opponents under Mullen … the Gators improve to 8-0 when scoring first and 5-0 in games decided by 10 points or fewer under Mullen … Florida has scored in 388 consecutive games, an NCAA record … the Gators have scored 24+ points in seven straight games for the first time since they did so in 24 consecutive contests from 2007-09 … this is the first time since 2014 that Florida had consecutive games with 300+ yards passing … the Gators are 7-1 under Mullen away from home, 5-0 on the road

7. What’s next? After starting this season by playing at home just once in four weeks, Florida returns to The Swamp to host Tennessee on Saturday, Sept. 21 for a noon ET kickoff. It will be the first of a three-game homestand for the Gators that also includes Towson and Auburn the following weeks.


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