Florida football score, highlights, takeaways: Mostly good from Trask as No. 9 Gators rout Tennessee

By Adam Silverstein
September 21, 2019
Florida football score, highlights, takeaways: Mostly good from Trask as No. 9 Gators rout Tennessee

Image Credit: Twitter / GatorsFB

The final score was not representative of how much the No. 9 Florida Gators (4-0, 2-0 SEC) dominated the Tennessee Volunteers (1-3, 0-1 SEC) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, as multiple turnovers and a couple mistakes prevented the Gators from truly running up the score on Saturday afternoon. Still, Florida — a two-touchdown favorite — easily covered against a Tennessee team that is facing even more questions following one of its worst performances in this rivalry in decades.

The Gators won for the 14th time in 15 meetings against the Vols and improved to 4-0 to start the season for the first time since 2015. Redshirt junior quarterback Kyle Trask was victorious in his first start since his freshman year of high school, though it did not come without a couple bumps in the road.

And that’s where we start this week. What does this victory mean for Florida going forward? Let’s break down Gators-Vols.

1. Trask was mostly good … except when he was not: Look, no one wants to read anything negative about Trask coming out of a solid performance in his first career start against Tennessee. But the truth is that while Trask was calm, confident and effective throughout Saturday’s game, his final line was not so different than what Florida fans have come to expect from the man he replaced, redshirt junior Feleipe Franks. The clear difference was that Trask shined the most with his read progression and recognition, which led to him completing 20-of-28 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns. Trask constantly attacked the middle of the field and seemed to convert a first down or throw a touchdown most of the times he reared back. That yardage total of 293 is more than Franks has posted in any game during his UF career, though the UT secondary was soft and left receivers quite open for most of the game.

The criticism comes in two of Trask’s eight incompletions, namely a pair of third-quarter interceptions that were clearly thrown into double coverage. Yes, one hit a receiver on the fingers, but it was an impossible grab and both picks wasted scoring opportunities that could have put another six points (at minimum) on the board. Head coach Dan Mullen called the interceptions “coachable moments, decision-making moments” and said he was not overly concerned about them given the score and game outcome. Trask also failed to feel the pass rush on numerous occasions with an early fumble and a couple of other instances that nearly led to the same outcome. So while the line (two touchdowns, three turnovers) may have been comparable to Franks, how Trask got there — and how he may be able to improve next week — was quite different for the Gators.

“Thought he played solid. Even both interceptions, it wasn’t like he threw to a guy and hit a defender in a chest. He took a shot on two plays, gave his receivers a chance,” Mullen said. “… I thought he really managed the game well, was sharp, good decisions all day long. The fumble … you got to burn it, play the next play. That comes from experience.”

2. The defense ate: One reason that Trask’s three turnovers were “OK” was that the Florida defense seemed to step up and get one back nearly every time. The Gators held the Vols to just three points, the fewest in this series since 1994. (The 1994 team just so happened to be honored in The Swamp on Saturday, and it beat Tennessee by 31 points, the same margin of victory as in this game.) The Gators recorded four turnovers on the day with three interceptions and a fumble recovery.

Sophomore defensive back Trey Dean III picked off a tipped ball to stop the Vols from threatening in the red zone following Trask’s first-quarter fumble. When Tennessee hit midfield in the second quarter, redshirt sophomore cornerback Marco Wilson was in perfect position for a third-down interception that led to a field goal. In the third quarter, Wilson tipped a pass that sophomore Amari Burney — back in action after missing time with an undisclosed injury – hauled in. Burney also picked up the fumble recovery forced by graduate transfer defensive end Jonathan Greenard in the fourth quarter. Florida also had four sacks, eight tackles for loss and six pass breakups on the afternoon. Greenard, the clear defensive player of the game, had one sack, two TFL and three PBU.

3. The playmakers did, too: Lending to Trask being so successful Saturday was his supporting cast. Sophomore tight end Kyle Pitts (four receptions, 62 yards) was his favorite target as Pitts was seemingly always open, and his 19-yard touchdown catch on the first series of the game got the Gators off to a hot start. Senior wide receiver Freddie Swain (three catches, 67 yards) was electric throughout the game with a 29-yard touchdown in the third quarter and a 24-yard catch leading to another score before halftime.

“I just think [Trask made] the reads and [did not force] the ball where it doesn’t need to go. They were showing us a bunch of different coverages today,” Mullen said. “… I just think his decision making of getting to the right read and getting there on time [was great] because a lot of those is timing routes. … The other good thing is, when you have some fetching wide receivers, boy, they can help the quarterback out. … We can roll some guys through, stay fresh, those guys know where to be and how to get open.”

Redshirt senior WR Van Jefferson (four receptions, 31 yards), senior WR Tyrie Cleveland (three receptions, 43 yards), junior WR Trevon Grimes (two receptions, 60 yards) and redshirt freshman WR Jacob Copeland (two receptions, 22 yards) were also important parts of the offense, though Copeland did drop a would-be touchdown bomb late in the game. The successful passing game — thanks to some solid blocking early and often in the contest — also opened some rushing lanes. Senior running back Lamical Perine had a second-quarter touchdown and 62 yards on 14 carries, while sophomore RB Dameon Pierce posted the final score and had 39 yards on 11 rushes.

4. Emory Jones is useful, but is he necessary? Mullen stayed true to his word and played his redshirt freshman backup quarterback frequently in the game, though some of Jones’ usage was relatively questionable. With Trask rolling and seemingly passing at will in the first half, Jones entered for an entire series that was mostly called rushes, and the Gators went three-and-out, killing their momentum. Jones saw more action with the game clearly out of reach, and he ultimately finished 4-of-6 passing for 20 yards with a 5-yard rush.

It was obvious that having Jones in the game as an occasional running threat taking snaps is a nice wrinkle to the offense, but giving him a full series — particularly early in the game when Florida was having few offensive issues to that point — did not make much sense. “I would have liked to have gotten Emory in once or twice more early,” Mullen said, noting that he wants Jones to stand next to him throughout the game for quick-change scenarios.

5. Odds and ends: Florida improved to 29-20 all-time against Tennessee with victories in 14 of the last 15 meetings … UF is 23-6 vs. UT since the annual series began … the Gators are 15-5 against the Vols in Gainesville with eight straight wins in The Swamp … Florida has won eight straight games for the first time since 2011-12 … those eight UF victories have come by a combined 277-83 … Florida is 11-2 against unranked opponents under Mullen … the Gators are 9-0 when scoring first, 11-0 when leading after the third quarter, 10-0 when allowing 20 points or fewer and 11-0 when outrushing their opponent under Mullen … Florida has scored 24+ points in eight straight games for the first time since doing so in 24 consecutive contests from 2007-09 … UF has scored in 389 consecutive games, an NCAA record

6. What’s next? After starting the season mostly away from The Swamp, Florida will continue its three-game homestand when it hosts Towson on Saturday, Sept. 28. The game will kickoff at 4 p.m. and air live on SEC Network. But that’s not all. HBO cameras will be in Gainesville all week taping behind the scenes as the Gators prepare for the game. That footage will be shown on Tuesday, Oct. 1 as the network debuts “24/7 College Football,” a docuseries in the vein of “Hard Knocks.” UF will be the first program featured on the series, which is making its debut.


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