It was messy. It wasn’t the immaculate performance Kyle Trask delivered for the first two and a half quarters against LSU the week before.
This game against South Carolina on Saturday felt like a return to reality for Trask, who is a capable quarterback but doesn’t have as many tools in the toolbox as the man he replaced, the injured Feleipe Franks.
We have seen many examples over the years of college football programs – even those led by elite coaches – not picking the right quarterback for opening day of the season. These programs and coaches stumbled onto the superior quarterback after benching the Day 1 starter or watching an injury force their hand.
Nick Saban picked Blake Barnett over Jalen Hurts at Alabama a few years ago
Clay Helton of USC picked Max Browne over a man named Sam Darnold.
In 2005, West Virginia started the season with an average quarterback named Adam Bednarik. He got hurt… and Pat White entered to completely change Rich Rodriguez’s career and the direction of the West Virginia program.
Yes, it is sometimes true in college football that the original starting quarterback wasn’t the best quarterback for the team.
It is not true with Florida.
Franks did not play well in this year’s opener against Miami, but Franks – at full health, able to expand the field with his scrambling and give the Gators’ offense more options for moving the ball – still offered more upside than Trask. This is not a criticism of Trask; at the very least, you don’t have to interpret it that way.
One can simply acknowledge that Franks was the starter for a reason. Trask was thrown into a very uncomfortable spot.
He handled it well, but he still had to live with his limitations. So did Florida.
This marked a prefect prelude to Saturday, on the road, in a roaring Williams-Brice Stadium. This was a microcosm of Trask’s 2019 season.
He was thrown into an uncomfortable position. Not everything was working well for him. Yet, his team needed him. He had to somehow find an answer in the midst of a challenging situation.
Down 20-17 in the fourth quarter, facing third-down pressure against an upset-minded opponent, what would Trask do? How would he respond?
The answer could not have been better for him, Dan Mullen, or the Gators.
Trask threw strikes in the fourth quarter. He threw them on the equivalent of a 3-2 count with runners in scoring position and two out… after racking up a high pitch count and having hitters work counts against him all game long.
Trask made so many bad reads through the first three quarters of this game. Dan Mullen was barking at him. The Gators’ offense sputtered against an in-form South Carolina defense which had made winning plays against Georgia and was rightly feeling confident that it could make those same plays one week later versus Florida.
The challenge wasn’t simply for Trask to play better; it was to block out the negativity from the first three quarters and provide the calm leadership of a team in dire need of stability.
Trask obviously needed to improve his reads and responses, but just as important was the need to provide a strong presence which would radiate through the huddle, anchoring Florida in a time of trial.
Trask answered the bell. It was in many ways a better outcome for Florida than if everything had gone swimmingly from opening kickoff to final gun.
THIS kind of win, not a drama-free joyride, truly prepares the Gators for the “Cocktail Party” against Georgia.
THAT is the game in which a smooth ride would be greatly appreciated by Gator fans… but they needed a triumph over difficult circumstances first.
They got it on Saturday. Kyle Trask conquered his doubts and his flaws, not just the Gamecocks.
Gators down stretch look very familiar
It sounds like an insult, but it’s not: Gators are McElwain 2.0
It does seem like an insult to say that the 2019 Florida Gators, under Dan Mullen, are a better version of Jim McElwain’s SEC East champion Florida teams. McElwain was not a beloved coach. He didn’t enjoy coaching at Florida. He didn’t handle the prominence or the pressure of the job very well.
Dan Mullen enjoys coaching the Gators. He relishes pressure. He has performed well in the SEC for a long time, as a head coach and offensive coordinator. He is so many of the things McElwain wasn’t.
Few men in college football scheme receivers open better than Dan Mullen. He has a gift for play calling, and he squeezed a lot out of his Mississippi State teams. One can very reasonably say that he took the Bulldogs as high as they could fly, as far as they could go.
That is pretty much what Mullen has done with this 2019 team.
He has had a backup quarterback for most of the year, not Feleipe Franks. He has had a below-average offensive line which simply cannot facilitate a consistent or especially productive running game.
He has had Jabari Zuniga, arguably his best defensive player, healthy for a tiny fraction of the season. Jon Greenard has been injured for multiple games as well.
Everywhere you look, Florida has been limited. Everywhere you look, Florida has not had the ideal players it would want to face Georgia and LSU.
Speaking of Georgia and LSU, Florida had to play those two teams this year. It also had to play Auburn and Miami and still has Florida State on the slate.
If you were to tell Mullen that he would have his best players within the context of an injury-free season, this 2019 course of events (in terms of wins and losses and style of play) would have been noticeably disappointing. Yet, given the injuries and the limitations, Florida being 6-2 in the SEC and 9-2 overall is pretty damn good.
Adjusted for circumstances, Florida has done as much as it realistically could have been expected to do. LSU is the best team in college football this regular season. Florida gave the Tigers a good test for three quarters and were outplayed in the fourth. There isn’t much more one could have asked from UF in that game.
The Georgia game was certainly a disappointment, but if you’re going to say that Florida and Georgia have the same levels of talent, please turn in your college football analyst card at the door.
That is not a credible assertion.
We can talk about recruiting in a separate conversation or column, but in 2019, Dan Mullen has coaxed a 9-2 record – likely to become 10-2 with a win over Florida State – from a limited roster with a lot of backups playing extended snaps at hugely important positions.
Florida is winning games without style points. It is managing situations and handling challenges.
Sound familiar? These were the two SEC East-winning seasons under McElwain, the only two seasons in this decade (which is about to end) when Florida went to Atlanta.
The 2019 Gators share the ragged, uneven quality of McElwain’s teams, but the coaching and adaptability are better. The number of losses is lower. The ceiling for the program is higher.
McElwain 2.0 feels like an insult, until you look below the surface and see what is truly being compared.
Georgia clinched SEC East- eliminated Gators Saturday night
Any hope the Florida Gators had of working their way back to Atlanta and the SEC Title game, through a potential backdoor, ended Saturday night. That’s when, the Georgia Bulldogs outfought their rival Auburn, 21 – 14 giving them a 6 – 1 record and the SEC East title for the third consecutive year.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Gators had done their part to set up a possible late season rally to win the division by smothering the Missouri Tigers on the road 23 – 6. That improved Florida to their final SEC record of 6 – 2. However, because they lost head-to-head 2 weeks ago to the Dawgs in Jacksonville, it meant the Gators had to have Georgia lose both of their remaining games, including next week at home with Texas A&M.
Georgia made sure that didn’t happen, as D’Andre Swift ran for 106 yards and Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm threw three touchdown passes. That included the eventual game-winner to tighten Eli Wolf from 5 yards out that put Georgia up 21 – 0 after three periods.
Auburn put together a tremendous rally behind freshman quarterback Bo Nix, who threw for 245 yards and a touchdown and ran for another TD to pull the Tigers within 21 – 14 with seven minutes to go.
Auburn got the ball back two times with chances to go and get a tying touchdown and both times, the Bulldogs held them on downs. The last one coming in the final minute of the game when Nix was sacked on fourth down inside his own 15-yard line to clinch the win and title for Georgia..
The Bulldogs, who were ranked fourth in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings still controls their own destiny to the playoff by winning out and winning the SEC title game. Of course, likely standing in their way is that top-ranked LSU, who is unbeaten heading into play Saturday night and will be the other team trying to make the final four.
The best case scenario now for the Gators is to win their remaining game with rival FSU at the Swamp in two weeks and then look to be in a possible “New Year Six” game, most likely the Cotton Bowl.
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