GAINESVILLE — As Florida’s offense prepared to take the field for the first time Saturday, Kyle Trask was finally where he wanted to be.
In front of Feleipe Franks.
It took an unfortunate injury, but Trask was there, standing on the sideline with his helmet on, ready to take the first snaps against Tennessee. And there directly behind him was Franks, in sweats, sitting on a medical scooter as he recovers from a dislocated/fractured ankle that will sideline him for the next six months.
“I’ve been waiting for my number to get called,” Trask said. “I knew I was going to be ready…”
He was. Trask threw a pair of touchdown passes to keep No. 9 UF perfect with a 34-3 blowout at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Trask wasn’t perfect; he lost a fumble on a strip-sack and threw a pair of interceptions into double coverage.
But he was prolific. His 293 yards are nine more than Franks has ever thrown at UF (4-0, 2-0 SEC), and he nearly became the Gators’ first 300-yard passer since Luke Del Rio hit that milestone against Kentucky in 2016.
And most importantly, the redshirt junior was poised despite the crowd (82,776), opponent (alleged rival Tennessee) and circumstances (his first start since was a high school freshman).
“I thought he was relaxed,” coach Dan Mullen said. “You know, he’d never been in that situation before…”
It sure didn’t look like it.
Moments after he ran onto the field while Franks sat behind, Trask dropped back for his first throw. When receiver Trevon Grimes looked back, he saw Trask starting to scramble.
“Usually when a quarterback scrambles,” Grimes said, “he’s trying to get out of bounds.”
Franks often did. Or if he didn’t try to get out, Franks would at least take off running when he began to feel the pressure.
Trask didn’t. Instead of scrambling outside the pocket, he shifted inside it and kept his eyes downfield.
“Kyle always reads the field, scans the field,” Grimes said.
This time, Trask scanned the field all the way to Grimes, his third read. The throw was more of a lob than a Franks-like laser, but it gained 43 yards. Three plays later, Trask hit Kyle Pitts for a 19-yard touchdown.
Barely two minutes into the game, the rout was on.
Trask kept reading the field. He mixed his targets, spreading his 20 completions among 10 different players. He knew when to attack soft spots in the middle of the defense.
One of Trask’s eight incompletions ended up being one of his best decisions of the day; instead of forcing a risky pass on third and goal in the second quarter, Trask wisely threw the ball away to let UF come away with a field goal.
All the while, Trask stayed calm on the sidelines and on the field.
“He gives us opportunities to run better routes, try to wait a little more because you know he’s going to sit back there and actually wait on us,” Freddie Swain said. “It just gives us a little more confidence.”
Not that UF needed the extra help Saturday.
Tennessee (1-3, 0-1 SEC) is as bad as advertised. The Volunteers lost four turnovers, committed two personal fouls in the first quarter and earned a delay of game penalty coming out of a TV timeout to start the second quarter.
But after next week’s snoozer against Towson, UF’s schedule heats up with back-to-back top-10 opponents (Auburn, at LSU) before Georgia on Nov. 2. If the Gators are going to make a run at another New Year’s Six bowl or an SEC East title, they need a quarterback who can inspire his teammates.
They thought they had one, until Franks wrecked his ankle last week. It turns out they had another, too.
All Trask needed was the chance to prove it.