Florida football: 5 bold predictions for the Gators' game against Kentucky
Kyle Trask was a backup quarterback toiling in anonymity with 2 career touchdown passes the last time Florida faced off with Kentucky. Little did anyone know what a fateful evening that Saturday night in Lexington would be for the Gators.
With the Gators trailing by 11 late in the 2nd half, Feleipe Franks left the game with what would be a season-ending injury. In came Trask, who would lead Florida to 3 4th-quarter touchdowns as the Gators erased the deficit and came back to win.
Kyle Trask came in for the injured Feleipe Franks and led the Gators to a comeback victory at Kentucky, including this scamper for six!
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 18, 2019
Trask would even run for the go-ahead score himself. It was a nod to his toughness and willingness as a runner, despite the rumor that he didn’t fit coach Dan Mullen’s offense well because he wouldn’t leave the pocket.
Fifty-five touchdowns, 5,000-plus passing yards and a 14-3 record as a starter later, Trask has gone from obscure backup to likely Heisman Trophy finalist.
It may seem like a blur to many, but Trask admitted this week he thinks about how fate intervened that night just more than a year ago quite a bit.
“It’s definitely (a game) I think about a lot,” the Florida senior said. “That was a huge moment for my career. It’s been a crazy journey since, and really my whole career so far. But I think that’s a true beginning, and we’re just getting started.”
The Gators very well may be. A win for No. 6 Florida on Saturday over Kentucky (noon ET, ESPN) would put the program within 1 win of its first SEC East title and SEC Championship Game appearance since 2016. Florida is 1 of 6 teams that truly control their own College Football Playoff destiny as well.
But first things first — a date with a Kentucky program that has given Florida all they want in the Mark Stoops era. Yes, Stoops is 1-6 against Florida as a head coach. But when Stoops took over the Wildcats program in 2013, Kentucky had lost 26 straight to the Gators. Losing to Florida was nothing new. Under Stoops, Kentucky has played Florida close almost annually. Four of the 7 contests have been decided by a touchdown or less, and 6 have involved 1-score games in the 4th quarter. Kentucky will be shorthanded, missing as many as 18 players due to COVID-19, but the Gators will respect the Wildcats regardless.
Here are 5 predictions for a game Florida no longer takes lightly.
Trask has a 2nd consecutive game with ‘only’ 3 TD passes
Trask “only” threw 3 touchdowns in Florida’s 38-17 win over Vanderbilt, a surprise given the Commodores were one of the worst defenses Trask had faced, and he had thrown 4 touchdowns or more in every other game this season. How good has Trask been? How about this from Nick de la Torre of Gator Country?
Kentucky has 6 passing touchdowns this season.
Kyle Trask has two games with 6 touchdown passes (Ole Miss, Arkansas).
— Nick de la Torre (@delatorre) November 25, 2020
When at full strength, Kentucky has an outstanding defense — this team isn’t 3-5 because it can’t get stops. But future All-America linebacker Jamin Davis is 1 of at least 18 Wildcats expected to miss Saturday’s game. Florida should roll offensively. We just think a proud Wildcats secondary will limit Florida’s success to 3 passing touchdowns instead of 4 or 5.
A quiet return for Kyle Pitts
Pitts is expected to play for the 1st time since an illegal hit by Georgia safety Lewis Cine knocked him out of the Cocktail Party in the 2nd quarter.
Florida has scored 124 points in the 10 1/2 quarters Pitts has been out, so it isn’t like the Gators have been stuck in the mud without him. But Pitts, who remains Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded player in college football, does make the offense more difficult to defend.
Passes to Florida's Kyle Pitts this year.
Line him up everywhere, throw to him everywhere. Love it.
(Red = comp, blue = INC, yellow = TD) pic.twitter.com/Rphu8W7tSy
— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) November 4, 2020
Mullen likes to move the star tight end all over the field and occupy various defenders, opening space for any number of Florida’s other playmakers.
Still, it’s tough to come right back after a concussion, and it wouldn’t be a shock to the system if Pitts takes a few quarters to get acclimated to game speed. We’ll bet on that happening against a solid Kentucky defense.
100 yards-plus from Chris Rodriguez Jr. (if he plays)
Rodriguez missed last Saturday’s loss to Alabama due to COVID-19, and a Kentucky offense that had shown signs of life in a 38-point outburst against Vanderbilt came quickly back to earth without its star running back, scoring 3 points.
If Rodriguez returns to action this week, he will have a big chance to shine. Florida’s defense has been gashed this season by the SEC’s best running backs. South Carolina’s Kevin Harris, Texas A&M’s Isaiah Spiller and Georgia’s Zamir White have all rushed for more than 100 yards, as did Arkansas running back Trelon Smith. Rodriguez, who will enter the Florida game ranked 6th in the SEC with 562 yards rushing and 1st with 6.39 yards per carry, has an excellent chance to become the latest opposing running back to chew the Gators defense up on the ground.
2 interceptions for the Florida secondary
Okay, okay. This prediction is very bold.
Florida’s pass defense is woeful. Florida ranks 97th in opponent passing success rate (not good!), and the Gators have produced only 3 secondary interceptions all season.
Fortunately, facing Kentucky might be a good tonic for Florida’s secondary ailments.
Terry Wilson has disappointed in his return from injury, and when he was benched for Joey Gatewood, the results weren’t any better. The Wildcats don’t even have 1,000 yards passing the entire season; Florida had 1,000 yards passing in 3 games.
The ‘Cats have avoided interceptions thus far, tossing only 2 this season, but they’ll need to throw more to attack this Gators defense and try to keep up offensively. That should lead to opportunities for Florida’s much-maligned secondary to build some confidence.
Kadarius Toney goes wild
If not for Trask hogging the headlines, Toney might be the best story on this team. Toney is Florida’s most improved player, having become a reliable route runner, a willing blocker in the run game and a consistent playmaker — all things that held the electrifying receiver back in his first 3 seasons in Gainesville.
Toney has almost tripled his production from a season ago, when he was limited by an injury but still managed only 22 touches in 7 games. This year, Toney has 55 touches for 586 yards, averaging more than a 1st down per touch. His 8 touchdowns have almost tripled his career total of 3 entering the season. And while he was slowed by Georgia, the best defense he has faced, his presence on the field and the way defenses are increasingly preoccupied with finding where he is opens things up for everyone else.
Toney is exactly the kind of player who has given Kentucky fits this year. From Alabama’s speedy DeVonta Smith to Ole Miss’s Elijah Moore to Vanderbilt’s Cam Johnson, the Wildcats have struggled mightily to contain their opponent’s fastest receiver. That won’t change Saturday, especially if the Wildcats enter The Swamp shorthanded. Look for Toney to go wild in his penultimate Gators home game.