LEXINGTON, Ky. — It didn’t take long for Kyle Trask to know the injury to Feleipe Franks was bad as his teammate writhed in pain after a collision that will likely sideline him for the rest of the season.
Franks didn’t say much as the rest of the Gators gathered around the cart that would take their starting quarterback off the field. Trask did.
“I just let him know I got your back,” Trask said. “It’s a next-man up mentality. I just did what I had to do for the team.”
What Trask had to do: Lead an 11-point second-half comeback on the road in the first meaningful action of his college career.
Trask scored the go-ahead touchdown with 4:11 to help No. 9 Florida stay perfect with Saturday night’s 29-21 triumph at Kroger Field.
“It’s a tribute to him of his mental toughness and preparedness to be ready for that opportunity,” coach Dan Mullen said.
That opportunity came through unfortunate circumstances.
With five minutes left in the third and UF (3-0, 1-0 SEC) trailing 21-10, Franks scrambled to try to convert on fourth and 1 in Kentucky territory. Franks ran into a wall of opponents and blockers as 6-foot-9, 311-pound defensive end Calvin Taylor came down on Franks’ right leg. Mullen said there could be a break and dislocations; regardless of the grisly details, Franks’ redshirt junior season is almost certainly over.
A few of Franks’ teammates knelt beside him at the Kentucky 38. As the situation became clearer, the rest joined the veteran of 24 career starts.
“It shows a lot about him,” Mullen said, “and it shows the respect that the team has for his leadership and the love that they have for him.”
The team wanted to rally behind Franks. But who would lead it?
Redshirt freshman Emory Jones is a former blue-chip recruit whose skill-set fits Mullen’s offense. That’s why the Gators had a package in place for him Saturday, even though they hadn’t used it yet.
But Trask was there, too, waiting, as he has his entire career, first as a backup in Manvel High in Texas, then in three-plus seasons at UF as the Gators rolled through Austin Appleby, Malik Zaire, Luke Del Rio and Franks.
Mullen chose Trask because he was the better drop-back option but still planned to use Jones, too. Except Trask hit his first pass. And his second. And the two after that. Then he finished his first drive by rushing left and pitching the ball to Lamical Perine for a touchdown.
“Kyle was kind of hot,” Mullen said, “so we just kind of stuck with it.”
It paid off two drives later, when Trask came through again. His ninth completion (in 13 passes) was a 30-yard pass to Kyle Pitts over the middle. Two plays later, Trask rushed four yards up the middle for the go-ahead touchdown.
“We’re confident with him…” receiver Josh Hammond said. “We knew he was going to be able to come in and make plays.”
The rest of the Gators were able to come through, too, to seal the gritty road win. Kentucky (2-1, 0-1) advanced into the red zone in the closing minutes before UF’s defense held on third and short to force a 35-yard field goal … which the Wildcats missed wide right.
Then Hammond answered with a 76-yard, third-down touchdown rush to ice the game, avenge last year’s historic loss and restart the Gators’ winning streak in the series.
But the star was Trask.
Before Saturday, all 27 of his career passes were either in one-sided wins or after Franks was benched in last year’s lopsided loss to Missouri. Now he has a comeback win over Kentucky on his resume — something Franks doesn’t have.
Players and coaches have always said that Trask was a capable quarterback with an accurate arm and good athleticism. All he needed was an opportunity.
It didn’t come with the circumstances anyone wanted Saturday night, but the moment finally arrived.
And Trask basked in it.
Contact Matt Baker at email@example.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.