After 2 consecutive years of having their heart broken in Jacksonville by a brilliant quarterback, Florida finally flipped the Cocktail Party script.
It was Kyle Trask who delivered the goods, and finally, after 3 long seasons, a Florida win over Georgia.
Behind their senior quarterback, the Gators converted on 6 of their first 9 3rd-down attempts on their way to 41 points on their first 8 possessions. The 38 points Florida scored in the opening half were the most a Georgia defense has surrendered in a half in the Kirby Smart era.
Georgia rallied, refusing to give up its vise grip on this rivalry without a fight. They forced 5 consecutive stops in the second half (the most against Florida in any Trask start). The Dawgs even nearly produced a potentially game-changing play with less than 7 minutes to play, forcing Trask into one of his only real mistakes of the day, a double-clutched in-route that was dropped by Georgia’s Mark Webb, who had a green path to the end zone in front of him.
But in the end, the Gators held off Georgia’s rally with timely defense, just enough first downs, and well, Kyle Trask.
Trask’s backstory is well-known. A 2-star recruit whose best offers were from Houston Baptist and Lamar, Florida had a hunch and gave Trask the chance to be a Power-5 quarterback.
It didn’t happen overnight. Greatness rarely does. A backup, Trask waited and waited. He stayed in Gainesville when backup quarterbacks at so many other programs, including a pair of 5-star ones at Georgia, transferred. Then, in Trask’s 4th season on campus, he got his chance when Feleipe Franks was lost for the season with injury. All he’s done since is win 12 of 15 starts and throw for over 4,500 yards and 47 touchdowns.
He’s a walking advertisement to all that’s still right about college football, a model of persistence and perseverance and a huge reason Dan Mullen is 25-6 since arriving at a 4-win Florida program that had just lost 42-7 to Georgia only 3 years ago. Saturday was about expanding the opportunity to expand that legacy and cement it, and Trask answered the bell.
Florida’s defense took off the first 2 possessions, putting the Gators in a 14-0 hole. No matter. After missing on his first 3 passes, Trask threw 4 touchdown passes and topped 300 yards before he threw 3 more incompletions. Playing against a Georgia defense that came into the game ranked in the top 20 nationally in pass defense, pass success rate against and yards allowed per pass attempt, Trask was surgical, handling every coverage and look Kirby Smart’s defense threw at him.
There was a pick-6 in between, when Trask had a wide open Kadarius Toney for a first down only to have freshman Xzavier Henderson run the wrong route and accidentally run Georgia’s excellent corner, Eric Stokes Jr., back into the play.
But every time Trask made a mistake, he came back with a bigger throw.
He beat delayed blitzes with precision throws, like this one to Justin Shorter to get Florida back in the game:
— InAllKindsOfWeather.com (@AllKindsWeather) November 7, 2020
He made elite back-shoulder throws, like this one to Kyle Pitts.
50/50 balls don’t exist with Kyle Pitts
— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 7, 2020
He made this throw, where only Trevon Grimes could catch the ball, to stake Florida to a 38-21 lead at the end of the first half.
Trevon Grimes 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Florida leads 38-21 pic.twitter.com/pYSXeXchii
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) November 7, 2020
Trask made all the throws and let his playmakers do work. Trask’s playmakers, by the way, are the things Georgia didn’t have enough of Saturday, which is another reason Florida flipped the script in this rivalry Saturday afternoon.
Take future All-American Kyle Pitts, who made his impression on the game felt with a pair of beast mode catches before an illegal Lewis Cine shot to the head forced him out of the game.
Georgia bottled up Toney better than anyone has all season, limiting him to 39 yards on 10 touches, but when the Gators needed a play and a first down late, Trask eluded pressure to find his man.
Like Jake Fromm in the Cocktail Party the previous 2 years, Trask made the big plays when his team needed them most. His gargantuan final numbers, 30-of-43 for a career-high 474 yards with 4 touchdowns, make it obvious he was the difference in the game, and they are the most passing yards ever surrendered by a Smart defense, besting Mac Jones and Alabama’s 417 earlier this season and Joe Burrow’s 349 the season before.
What should also be obvious is that Trask is very much a Heisman contender. His 22 touchdown passes through 5 SEC games is a conference record, besting Tua’s second-place effort by 4 and Burrow, last year’s winner, by 5. That he’s doing it with a defense still figuring out exactly what it can be is also reminiscent of last year’s Heisman winner.
Trask may not win the Heisman. Justin Fields, who could have played this game today but now plays for Ohio State instead, will have his say. So will Mac Jones, who has been masterful throughout 2020.
What can’t be said anymore is that Trask doesn’t belong in the conversation. Gone is the idea that Trask, for all the good vibes his story sends, is just a system quarterback with a ceiling against great opponents.
Playing with a reshuffled offensive line, Trask lit up one of America’s most talented defenses Saturday afternoon. Any doubts about Trask’s ceiling or ability were all silenced on the banks of the St. John’s River on the first Saturday in November.
The win Trask delivered the Gators silences other lingering doubts, too.
Gone is the shiny red mirage of Georgia’s invincibility, or the notion that Smart simply “has Mullen’s number.” It looked like that might be true for much of the 1st quarter. Then Kyle Trask led Florida on a 41-7 run to put Mullen’s program, not Smart’s, in the SEC East catbird seat.
What does that all mean? Time will tell.
But the question as to whether Florida can truly compete with Smart and Georgia, given Smart’s superior recruiting operation and Georgia’s edge in talent, should go away for the time being. The debate will linger in fan bases, of course, and talking is fun. But this was a convincing win by a Gators team that, while featuring less 4- and 5-stars, played a more modern, fun brand of football.
It’s the kind of video you show recruits just before you sell them modern offense and above all, tell them the story of Kyle Trask, the Gators quarterback who made it all possible.