Florida versus Kentucky, the game that marks the unexpected emergence of Kyle Trask.
After an unfortunate turn of events in 2018 stalled Trask’s rise to star quarterback of the Florida Gators following a disheartening loss to the Missouri Tigers, the Manvel (Tex.) native got another shot versus the Kentucky Wildcats on the road last season.
Stepping into the lineup down 21-10 on the road against the Wildcats in relief of the injured Feleipe Franks, Trask led multiple scoring drives to lift the Gators to an emotional victory 29-21. Doing so on 9 for 13 passing, 126 yards, and a rushing score on a four-yard scamper, the now highly regarded signal-caller staked his claim for the leader of the future, a moment still reminisces on to this day.
“I think about it a lot because it's a huge moment for my career,” Trask said on Monday. “Being a backup for all that time, it kind of is waiting on that moment where you get your opportunity, and that kind of was where I got my chance to really get some meaningful reps and do something good for my team.”
The career backup has accomplished a tremendous amount since that moment and currently leads the nation's sixth-ranked team into battle.
Accounting for an impressive 2,554 yards on 70.7% passing, 31 touchdowns, and only three interceptions in seven contests, the overnight phenomenon currently sits atop the Heisman leaderboards through seven games.
Now, his improbable rise to prominence is coming full circle. However, with his comeback heroics being the storyline in game one, what does game two in the series against Kentucky bring for Trask and company?
As the series that kicked off the beginning of SEC opponents for Dan Mullen’s tenure at Florida, Kentucky left a sour taste in the mouth of Gator faithful and players alike for what transpired the last time they rolled into town.
Sitting at 27-1 versus Kentucky since SEC East was formed in 1992, the Gators were notorious for their dominance over SEC East foe until 2018, when Mark Stoops’s Wildcats captured their lone win against UF in that time span.
As they travel back to the Swamp for their bi-yearly trip to Gainesville, Kentucky is motivated to rebound from an embarrassing 63-3 beat down by Alabama last week.
Ranking 39th in total defense on the season, allowing just 381 yards and 26.5 points per game, Kentucky has fielded one of the best pass defenses in the country, a sentiment head coach Dan Mullen agrees with.
“But you look at them, very good defensive team, stout upfront. One of the best pass defenses in the conference.”
Only allowing 222.8 passing yards per contest this season, Florida’s prolific passing offense will be tested. However, seeing what Alabama was able to do to the Kentucky defense last week, there should be no concern that the Florida offense can’t continue rolling the way they have all season long.
Facing a Florida team that has nearly unstoppable all season—with 38 points being their lowest scoring total on the season—the strength on strength matchup is one to be watched, especially since Kentucky looks to give Florida its best, according to Dan Mullen.
“For us, always, you know you’re always going to get their best when they come to play the Gators,” Mullen said in his media availability earlier this week. “We’ve got to continue to take strides moving forward, have a great week of practice and come out and perform at a high level again on Saturday.”
Despite the matchup of the Florida offense against Kentucky defense, the matchup’s outcome heavily relies on what the Gators defense can accomplish against a stagnant and stale Wildcats offense.
With a record that fails to indicate Kentucky's potential, the program has actually taken great steps forward in the past couple of seasons under Mark Stoops’ leadership.
In 2020–despite a top-tier defense—the reason for their faltering comes from the lackluster production offensively, ranking 116th out of 126 eligible teams. Only accounting for 318 yards and 20.8 points per game on the year, the Kentucky offense has struggled to sustain success.
As a result, the Florida defense seemingly has another week to make the necessary adjustments against a sub-.500 opponent.
However, the task won’t be easy, and, in fact, the Kentucky offensive attack involves a man that gave the Gators fits in the Wildcats' lone victory over the Gators in the past 28 seasons. With Terry Wilson returning to the lineup at QB following a season-ending injury last season, the dual-threat skillset he carries returns to the Kentucky game plan with the intent to replicate the 303-yard rushing performance the Wildcats overcame the Gators with 27-16 in 2018.
As a game in which Wilson accounted for 256 yards—151 yards passing and 105 yards on the ground—Florida failed to find consistency on either side of the ball and fell in defeat because of their lethargy.
Despite a limited impact on their season to this point, Wilson fits the mold of quarterbacks that hurt Florida due to his keen ability to gain yards when there is no sign of yards to be gained.
With the Kentucky offense heavily emphasizing the run game in an attempt to control the tempo and limit the amount of time opposing offense have to create a rhythm, the Wildcats have a plethora of things they can hurt Todd Grantham’s defense with and continues the units poor play.
Freshly removed off a week where the Florida defense struggled with the upbeat passing attack of the Vanderbilt offense, the slow-paced ground and pound will be an interesting change-up where preparation is concerned.
While the Gators are expected to come out victorious over the Wildcats, doing so in dominant fashion would be an excellent rebuttal to the Alabama Crimson Tide’s dismantling of the Wildcats last weekend.
To do that, Florida will look to continue the offensive success that they have experienced since this matchup last year—due to the emergence of Trask—with a passing game that will regain its star tight end in Kyle Pitts offensively.
Defensively, the Gators will attempt to effectively shut down the Kentucky run game while limiting big plays through the air from their elusive signal-caller.