Florida vs. Georgia score, takeaways: Kyle Trask goes wild, Gators take control of SEC East

By Adam Silverstein
November 8, 2020
Florida vs. Georgia score, takeaways: Kyle Trask goes wild, Gators take control of SEC East
Football

Image Credit: @GatorsFB / Twitter

Georgia turned blue twice this week with the No. 8 Florida Gators darkening the tint on Saturday afternoon with a thorough 44-28 win over the No. 5 Bulldogs in the annual World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida. After trailing 14-0 early, the Gators held the Dawgs to just seven offensive points over the remainder of the game to pick up their first win in the rivalry series since 2016.

In the third straight meeting of Florida and Georgia as top 10 teams, Gators head coach Dan Mullen also grabbed his first victory over the Dawgs in a must-win game if UF aimed to continue controlling its destiny on the way to potential berths in the SEC Championship Game and College Football Playoffs.

Florida exorcised some demons against Georgia and took control of the SEC East for the first time in three season, though UF still has plenty of conference games to play before it can claim a spot in the league title game. The Gators’ victory must also be taken into context considering the circumstances of Saturday’s game, and that’s what we aim to do as we look at what exactly went down in this edition of the Florida-Georgia game with key takeaways.

1. The blue wave overcame a red mirage: No, we’re not trying to be political here, but the parallels are uncanny. The Dawgs opened the game by absolutely shocking the Gators with a 14-0 lead in the first 3:16. Running back Zamir White scored a 75-yard rushing touchdown untouched on the first play from scrimmage, and following a three-and-out, quarterback Stetson Bennett IV converted a third down with a 32-yard touchdown pass. Florida has seen this happen so many times before in big games that fans were not necessarily stunned but rather immediately turned to a gloom-and-doom mindset. Luckily, the players and coaches did not take that approach.

These Gators rallied in a way that this program has not experienced in quite some time. Redshirt senior QB Kyle Trask immediately led a seven-play, 75-yard drive capped with an unplanned jump pass-style touchdown to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Justin Shorter on third down. Despite special teams allowing a 56-yard kickoff return, the defense held and Trask led an 11-play, 80-yard drive with redshirt sophomore RB Dameon Pierce running in a short touchdown to tie the game 14-14 before the end of the first quarter.

The way Florida was able to bounce back rather than enter a downward spiral of despair was impressive. And it was tasked with doing that a second time when Trask threw a pick six after freshman WR Xzavier Henderson ran an incorrect route on the opening series of the second quarter. No problem. Trask hit freshman RB Nay’Quan Wright on a wheel route for 50 yards, then threw a 25-yard touchdown to junior tight end Kyle Pitts to tie the game at 21 in just 39 seconds of clock.

The Gators ended up posting a 41-7 scoring stretch on the Dawgs with sophomore kicker Evan McPherson booting two 50+ yard field goals (3 of 4 on the day) and Georgia’s only points coming on Trask’s interception return touchdown. UGA’s offense was held scoreless for 41:43 of game clock deep into the third quarter. UF’s defense forced four three-and-outs in that stretch as Bennett was rattled in the backfield and eventually pulled from the game with a separated shoulder.

2. Trask is a history maker and Heisman Trophy contender: What Trask is accomplishing in Mullen’s offense is nothing short of remarkable. Florida’s star signal caller completed 30 of 43 passes for 474 yards with four touchdowns and an interception on Saturday. He became the first quarterback to throw for 4+ touchdowns in five straight SEC games, threw for the most yards in a regular-season game in program history, set a new career-high with 30 completions and joined Rex Grossman (2001) and Danny Wuerffel (1996) as the only Gators with multiple 400-yard passing games in a single season. His 474 yards were also the second-most any player has ever had in a game against Georgia.

When the Heisman is discussed these days, a litany of quarterbacks including Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Alabama’s Mac Jones are listed. Trask is not. He should be. On the season, Trask has completed 69% of his passes for 1,815 yards with 22 touchdowns and three interceptions. That’s in only five games. Average that out. It means Trask is hitting for 363 yards and 4.4 touchdowns per game. Against SEC-only competition. That compares apples-to-apples with Jones, meaning Trask belongs in any similar conversation.

Trask completed passes to 10 receivers on Saturday and targeted two others. Four different players had touchdown catches, including Shorter, Pitts, redshirt junior TE Kemore Gamble and senior WR Trevon Grimes. He also hit redshirt junior RB Malik Davis five times for 100 yards in the passing game and deftly gets Florida in and out of plays while managing the game in an expert manner.

Yes, Trask has thrown two pick sixes on the season. Honestly, he’s avoided two more on the year, including a second in the fourth quarter on Saturday that was shockingly dropped by a Georgia defender. He is not perfect and still has room for improvement, but he’s as good as anyone else in college football right now.

3. Concern for Pitts and others: As great as Trask has been, Pitts has been there right with him all season. The Gators’ top playmaker has 24 receptions for 414 yards and eight touchdowns on the season, but he only got so long to cook on Saturday. Pitts left the game with two receptions for 59 yards and a score after becoming the victim of targeting. Trask found Pitts deep over the middle of the field, but the all was knocked out of his hands as Dawgs defensive back Lewis Cine lowered his helmet and rocked Pitts. Cine was ejected upon review, while both players left the game and did not return.

Priority No. 1 is ensuring Pitts is fine going forward. Hopefully he passes all of his concussion tests and has no lasting effects from the hit. From a football sense, Florida was able to continue scoring without Pitts in the game, but Georgia was clearly more effective defensively without having to worry about him on the field. The Gators offense largely stalled in the second half as Trask did not have his safety valve. Despite all of UF’s weapons, the offense this season is built around #Kyle2Kyle, and Pitts’ availability or lack thereof will be a key going forward.

Redshirt seniors linebacker Jeremiah Moon and offensive lineman Stewart Reese and Jean Delance were all knocked out of the game before the second half got underway. With Florida having a surprisingly difficult test coming next week, there is concern about how many players the Gators will be down when they return home.

4. The defense stepped up again: For the second straight game, the Gators defense has done its job. Florida held Georgia to 2 of 13 on third downs, though both conversions wound up as touchdowns. The Dawgs compiled just 277 yards of offense but did rumble for 165 on the ground with White picking up two big gains. However, UGA only had 12 first downs in the game and committed three turnovers. UF’s pressure on Bennett led to his injured shoulder and forced Georgia to insert D’Wan Mathis, who started a game earlier this season but is an even worse passer than Bennett.

Sophomore cornerback Kaiir Elam intercepted Bennett at midfield in the third quarter to knock him out of the game, and Florida feasted on Mathis. Senior safety Shawn Davis effectively iced the game on a wounded-duck ball thrown on fourth-and-8 as defensive coordinator Todd Grantham brought the pressure on UGA’s penultimate series, and junior DB Amari Burney grabbed a pick at midfield to effectively end the game with 10 seconds to play.

This is not to say UF’s defensive problems have been solved. There were numerous times Saturday where opposing receiver dropped passes and others when Bennett and Mathis were simply unable to hit open pass catchers down the field. The Gators secondary did get burned numerous times, and against a better quarterback (such as Jones in a potential SEC Championship Game), the defense could be exposed again. Luckily for Florida, it had a couple get-right games against Missouri and Georgia. But it cannot count on playing against susceptible offenses every week.

5. And there were still miscues: Aside from Trask’s pick six (and near-second pick six), the Gators frequently put themselves in unnecessary positions. Trask’s lone turnover came as Mullen inexplicably decided to run tempo. Yes, he was taking advantage of a Dawgs third-down personnel switch, but rushing the play actually hurt his team as Henderson, a freshman, did not understand his route. With two players running a curl, Trask threw right into a Georgia defender for six points the other way.

Mullen also continues to insist on inserting redshirt sophomore QB Emory Jones in the game while Trask is absolutely dealing. The concept makes sense. Not only does it give the defense a different look, as a coach, you’re trying to keep Jones happy and ensure he neither opts out nor decides to transfer despite being talented yet not the starting signal caller. However, every time Mullen brings in Jones or (last week) freshman Anthony Richardson, the change in cadence affects the offensive line and there is generally a false start.

Mullen and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson also continued to use senior WR Kadarius Toney (10 touches, 40 yards) behind the line of scrimmage despite Georgia’s defense routinely snuffing him out. The Dawgs clearly had a game plan focused on not letting Toney break away. Maybe the idea was to keep Georgia honest, but it consistently led to unnecessary lost yardage for Florida when the offense was otherwise operating well.

Finally, Mullen’s conservative nature following occasions in which the Gators faced reared its head again. McPherson, despite hitting three field goals in the game, missed a 45-yarder that made it three straight drives without points. So when another clear field goal opportunity came that would have put his team up 16, Mullen instead opted to go on fourth-and-4 with a play that had no chance. That’s only one example.

6. But there were also incredible calls: To be fair, Mullen also made some tremendous decisions in the game, including to play cautiously at the end of the first half when he chose to kick a field goal at the end of a 10-play, 63-yard drive to put Florida up 10. Mullen trusted the defense to make the most of its opportunity, and not only did the Gators force a three-and-out giving the offense 39 seconds and two timeouts, Trask capitalized by hitting Grimes for an incredible touchdown before halftime.

Mullen and Johnson also put on an absolute clinic with the wheel route. It seemed like one was called on every series in which the Gators were on offense. Without the use of all-22 film, it’s tough to know how many were called or executed, but it seemed as if Florida caught 5-7 passes on that play for 150-200 yards. It was just stunning offensive game planning against a top-tier defense.

7. Odds and ends: UF outgained UGA 571-277, including 474-112 through the air …Florida is a perfect 26/26 in the red zone this season … UF and UGA combined to score the most first-quarter points (28) in the rivalry since 1942, and the 59 first-half points were the most in series history … the Gators improved to 10-0 when scoring 38+ points against the Dawgs … Florida is 10-5 against Georgia since 1990 when squaring off as ranked teams … UF is now 44-52-2 all-time against UGA, though 22-9 since 1990, and 41-46-1 all-time in Jacksonville … the Gators ended a three-game losing streak to the Dawgs … this was the first time in series history that Florida and Georgia met as top-10 opponents three games in a row

The Gators are now 5-4 against ranked opponents under Mullen and 4-3 against top-10 teams … Florida is 21-1 when leading after the third quarter under Mullen … the Gators have scored 24+ points in 20 of their last 22 games dating back to 2018 … Florida has scored 212 points through its first five SEC games, its highest-scoring start in league play since 1996 … UF has scored 131 offensive touchdowns in 31 games under Mullen after posting 93 in 38 games from 2015-17 … Florida has scored in 403 consecutive games, an NCAA record

8. What’s next? A familiar face returns to The Swamp next Saturday as Feleipe Franks leads Arkansas into town to take on his former team. The Gators and Razorbacks will kick off at 7 p.m. ET in a game that will air live on ESPN. Florida is 9-2 all-time against Arkansas but lost their last meeting in 2016.

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