Joe Burrow was the SEC's breakout superstar in 2019. Kyle Trask has the makings of being that in 2020
In the middle of October, a pair of quarterbacks who entered the night leading undefeated teams stepped off the field at Tiger Stadium having just put on a show. They combined for 70 points and nearly 1,000 yards.
Believe it or not, not all of that production came from Joe Burrow. Believe it or not, a good amount of it came from the other quarterback.
I’m referring to Kyle Trask. It was Trask who, as you might recall, became QB1 and led his team to a season with double-digit wins and a New Year’s 6 Bowl bid. He finished his season strong and quieted some early-season doubts about his upside. Now, he’ll enter his second season as a starter and fifth college season returning an experienced offensive line with talented skill players. He’ll also do so with an elite offensive mind in his ear.
Don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying that I expect Trask to have an all-time great season in the same sense that Burrow just did.
We’re already talking about one of the great individual years in college football history, which would be cemented with a national championship. I’d be stunned if Trask flirts with 50 touchdown passes and becomes a lopsided Heisman Trophy winner like Burrow. Duh.
So what am I saying? I’m saying Burrow quietly had a ton of solid pieces in place to fuel his season as the unquestioned breakout star in the SEC. I believe the same is true for Trask.
Let’s start with the timeliness factor. I think people overlooked how difficult it was for Burrow to walk into LSU after spring camp with limited time to get on the same page as the rest of the offense. Trask, on the other hand, had plenty of experience working with Dan Mullen and was in Year 4 at Florida. But entering in the 4th quarter of the third game after going 7 years between starts certainly made his task difficult. Well, he didn’t make it look that difficult.
The offensive line deal is important, too. Burrow was a bit hamstrung by an LSU offensive line that was inexperienced and banged up so much that it didn’t start the same combination in the first half of the season. It showed, especially against Florida in 2018 when LSU’s tackles couldn’t do a thing against Todd Grantham’s edge pressure.
Great rep for the #brand.
Jachai Polite screaming off the edge forcing Burrow up in the pocket with Vosean Joseph finishing the play with a sack. pic.twitter.com/obeAeiWCco
— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) January 31, 2019
What made matters worse was the fact that LSU’s quarterback room was depleted after failing to sign a 2018 quarterback and losing Lowell Narcisse and Justin McMillan via transfer. Myles Brennan dealt with a midseason injury and was essentially an emergency quarterback, which meant keeping Burrow protected limited the play-calling. Oh, and Burrow took an average of 2.5 sacks per game.
This year, however, Burrow benefited from LSU returning 4 starters on the offensive line. As a result, the Tigers are up for the Joe Moore Award as the best offensive line in America.
Could Florida follow a similar pattern? This year, the Gators entered the season with 1 returning starter up front. Trask took an average of 2.1 sacks per game. The ground game was more of a struggle for the Gators, who had a rushing offense that ranked No. 122 of 130 FBS teams. They are, however, expected to return 4 of 5 starters from a unit that played better in the latter half of the schedule.
Again, that bodes well for Trask, who seems to like the whole “clean pocket” thing.
Florida QB Kyle Trask posted a 121.7 passer rating from a clean pocket 👀 pic.twitter.com/oWHX2MckAc
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 13, 2019
As for the pass-catchers, that’s perhaps the biggest difference in Trask’s pre-2020 surroundings compared to Burrow entering 2019. They’re actually the inverse. Burrow lost top tight end Foster Moreau and returned virtually everyone else while Trask returns top tight end Kyle Pitts (1st-team All-SEC selection) and loses at least 4 wideouts, and possibly more depending on the NFL Draft decisions of Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes.
And unlike what Burrow got with Joe Brady, Trask isn’t working with some new system that’s going to suddenly change everything we thought we knew about him.
But why can’t Trask still take the next step? All the guy did in 2019 was throw for multiple touchdown passes in every game as a starter and suffer 2 non-blowout losses to top 5 teams away from home. What’s to say his first offseason getting work exclusively with the starters won’t allow him to take another big step?
And for those saying it can’t happen because Trask doesn’t have Feleipe Franks’ arm, take a closer look at a number like this:
The SEC’s best downfield throwers per Depth Adjusted Accuracy% -min 70 att
1. Burrow 65%
2. Tagovailoa 54.2%
3. Trask 50.9%
4. Mond 50.6%
5. Jones 50.3%
6. Bryant 50.2%
7. Guarantano 46.2%
8. Starkel 43%
9. Shrader 42.5%
10. Stevens 42.3%
SEC AVR = 44.8%https://t.co/soT03RgK5A
— SEC StatCat (@SEC_StatCat) December 5, 2019
I also think that with improved offensive line play comes an increased ability to push the ball downfield. Granted, it’ll help if Florida can find some guys who can stretch the field vertically. That’s obviously not a given.
But if I’m a Florida fan, I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen from Trask so far. He played against 6 top 30 defenses and put up an 11-3 TD-INT ratio with 1,502 yards (8.4 yards per attempt) and 64% accuracy. And in those games vs. defenses who weren’t in the top 30? Florida scored an average of 43 points.
He’s a solid Orange Bowl effort from finishing the season ranked in the top 10 in quarterback rating. As much as Florida fans argued that Franks’ 2018 season deserved more praise, he still only finished No. 44 in that department. But this isn’t an argument about whether Trask is better than Franks. That’s clear based on the fact that the latter is no longer in Gainesville.
Ironically enough, Trask is at the exact 24-6 TD-INT ratio that Franks was at, though that was in essentially 9.25 games compared to 13 for Franks. That production didn’t come with such severe peaks and valleys, either. That’s perhaps what Florida fans could appreciate most out of Trask. He brought a steadying presence to a program that needed it to get to this point.
Irrelevant now is that fact that he was the lowest-rated recruit in Florida’s 2016 class, or that he went a first-grader’s lifetime between starts. Trask might not have Burrow-type potential. That’s OK. As we learned, few can reach the peaks that Burrow has.
But don’t convince yourself that Trask peaked in 2019. A budding superstar will be back in Gainesville in 2020.