Rapid Reaction: Kyle Trask, Gators top Tennessee to clinch SEC East title
Tennessee tried something new, unveiling freshman QB Harrison Bailey as its starter in an effort to avoid their first 6-game losing streak since 1988. Meanwhile, Florida did the same thing it has done all season: The Gators leaned heavily on a pass-heavy offense with Heisman candidate Kyle Trask. It worked out better for the Gators as they won the SEC East to clinch a spot in the SEC Championship Game with their 31-19 win over Tennessee on Saturday.
Tennessee’s offense had struggled all season and continued to do so against Florida, as Bailey was valiant but was also often hurried behind the struggling UT offensive line, which allowed multiple sacks. Tennessee struggled to establish any running game, and Bailey’s accuracy rarely had the opportunity to lead to points.
Florida also struggled with the running game, mightily, actually, but that hardly mattered.
Not when Trask threw for 433 yards passing and 4 more TDs — giving him 38 this season, just 1 shy of matching Danny Wuerffel’s school record.
Kadarius Toney was his most frequent early target, approaching 100 receiving yards by the middle of the 3rd quarter, with tight end Kyle Pitts surpassing 100 yards as well. Oddly, Pitts didn’t catch a TD pass. Trevon Grimes caught 2, and Toney and Jacob Copeland added 1 each.
Florida’s victory sends the Gators back to the SEC Championship Game for the first time since 2016, their 2nd of back-to-back trips.
It wasn’t pretty start to finish, but it was plenty good enough.
After a Tennessee 3-and-out to open the game, Florida drove down the field before stalling out. Evan McPherson’s 30-yard kick gave Florida the early 3-0 edge.
After the teams traded punts, Bailey gave Tennessee its best moments of the game, leading an 11 play, 96-yard scoring drive. The freshman swung a pass to running back Eric Gray, who broke through a seam for a 15 yard touchdown to give UT a 7-3 advantage with 9:59 to play in the second quarter. The pass was Bailey’s first Tennessee touchdown pass.
Florida answered by marching 75 yards in just 6 plays, retaking the lead on a 4-yard scoring pass from Trask to Grimes with 7:53 left in the half. Florida never trailed again.
They put together a 2-minute drive with a 10 play, 80-yard march that ended with Trask finding Toney for a 2-yard touchdown to make it 17-7 with 33 seconds left until the half.
They opened the 3rd quarter with a 5-play, 75-yard scoring drive that increased their edge to 24-7. The key play in that drive was a 42 yard pass to tight end Pitts, who was quiet early. Trask picked up his 3rd touchdown pass of the day with an 8-yard completion to Grimes.
Florida extended its advantage with a 12-yard scoring pass from Trask to Copeland with 11:21 left. That score moved Trask to within a single TD pass of Wuerffel’s Florida single-season record (39 in 1996). While Joe Burrow’s SEC record 60 touchdowns in 2019 certainly seems out of reach, Drew Lock’s 2nd-place mark of 44 seems well within Trask’s sights.
The Gators improved to 8-1 on the season and clinched their spot in the SEC Championship Game. It was their 4th consecutive victory over the Vols and the 15th in the past 16 meetings.
Tennessee fell to 2-6, and clinched the 2nd losing season in Jeremy Pruitt’s 3 seasons in Knoxville. The Gators will play at LSU next week, while Tennessee will finish at Vandy and then at home against Texas A&M.