Film Study: Florida Gators QB Kyle Trask's Improvements in 2020

michaelknauff

The story has been told too many times to forget it now: The high school backup who became the starting quarterback for the Florida Gators.

You read that line and immediately knew who I was talking about. Kyle Trask.

Now that he’s been the Gators starter for more than a seasons worth of games (13), Trask has a decent sample size to evaluate his production and compare his 10 games last year to the three games this year.

Trask’s 2019 stats were solid: 8-2 as a starter, 2,941 passing yards, 25 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 67% completion percentage, and 8.3 yards per attempt. A pretty solid stat line across ten games for a guy in his first starting action since, literally, 15-years-old.

However, Trask wasn’t without his faults in 2019. His game was unpolished and needed a full offseason of work as QB1. He’s improved a good bit of his game through the first three outings this season, and it’s led to him putting up Heisman caliber stats. Trask is completing nearly 72% of his passes, has thrown for 14 touchdowns compared to only one interception, thrown for 996 yards (332 yards per game), and is averaging nearly 10 yards per attempt. 

Let’s take a look at the areas of Trask’s game he’s improved that have led to these gaudy offensive numbers.

Footwork

The biggest issue Trask had in 2019 was not setting his feet, especially on plays where he was supposed to orient his body one way and then flip his hips to make a throw in the other direction. This also reared its ugly head on RPO’s and play-action passes a year ago.

The issue was most obvious when throwing to his left. He would open his hips up too much, and his left foot would overextend toward the sideline, creating an off-balance throw. This caused passes, primarily on slants, to that side to fall behind receivers and hurt the chances of yards after the catch. Trask was better about the issue when throwing to his right, but it still presented problems at times.

This was most obvious in the LSU game last year. The Gators ran a lot of slants from the short side of the field in that game, and Trask was consistently behind his targets throughout the course of the game on these throws.

It appears Dan Mullen and the coaching staff has recognized this too, because there hasn’t been a single play call that has required Trask to go from play-action to throwing a slant on his left side in 2020.

The area of Trask’s game that looks to be the most improved is him keeping a solid base. Last year, his feet would get really wide sometimes and this caused a lot of balls to have low velocity and fall short of receivers.

Trask has improved greatly at this in 2020. Even on throws where he’s drifting backward, his feet are still in a good position to make a strong, accurate throw. A case in point being the touchdown he threw to Kadarius Toney against Texas A&M, where Trask drifted back after escaping a collapsing pocket and lofted a ball to his open target (first quarter, snap at 1:49).

Decision making

The seven interceptions Trask threw in 2019 came down to two reasons. One, Trask got stuck on his first read and tried to force balls into non-existent windows, or two, he was greedy and tried to hit home run plays that weren’t there.

He’s cut down on the first tendency a lot thus far, but he still has a little gunslinger in him and has tried to force some balls into double, and sometimes, triple coverage.

Let’s focus on the former point first. The thing that really has stood out is that Trask is working through his full progression. He isn’t fixated on the primary target on pass patterns and his internal clock seems like it has slowed down and he’s more poised when his initial read isn’t open.

It helps that the pass protection is better compared to 2019, and instead of the pocket totally collapsing on him when pressure comes, he’s finding lanes to step up into or side-step out of. This has allowed him to keep his eyes downfield and diagnose coverages mid-play and make the proper read.

Trask has thrown high quality, catchable balls on a consistent basis. Five-yard hitch? Ball on the outside shoulder so the receiver can turn upfield in stride. Crossing pattern? Ball out in front so the receiver doesn't have to break their momentum. Back shoulder throw? High and away from the defender where only Trask's guy can get it.

This level of accuracy is what’s powering the Gator passing game. These aren’t complicated route patterns - they’re somewhat vanilla, really, but Trask is consistent and lets his skill position players use their athleticism in space to the max.

Arm Strength

If there was a consensus knock on Trask in 2019, it was his lack of arm strength. There was merit to that claim. Trask floated a lot of balls, and he wasn’t great at pushing the ball downfield. However, that’s changed a fair bit in 2020.

Trask has shown in every game thus far this season that he has the ability to make throws 20+ yards downfield with accuracy. A lot of this has to do with his improved footwork, but he’s also doing a fantastic job of using his hips to throw, rather than just his arm. This has added a lot of velocity through his motion, allowing him to make throws like his deep touchdown in the middle of the field to tight end Kyle Pitts against Ole Miss (third quarter, snap at 14:34)

Trask has also shown much more downfield touch on throws. He hasn’t thrown too many deep balls this season, mostly because he hasn’t needed to, but, when he does go vertical, he allows his pass catchers to get under his throws and hit them in stride.

His third-down touchdown pass to Toney against Texas A&M is the perfect illustration of this. Trask takes his three-step drop and quickly lofts a beautiful 37-yard-pass that falls onto Toney’s outside shoulder on the fade he ran. Six points.

One of Trask’s favorite throws is going back-shoulder, and he’s gone from very good to fantastic at throwing them in 2020. The two that stand out are his touchdown to Trevon Grimes against Ole Miss, and his first-down throw to Pitts on the opening drive versus South Carolina with Jaycee Horn in coverage (first quarter, snap at 5:44).

On both throws, Trask gets his feet in a good spot and rips line drives to the back shoulder, allowing only his targets to catch these balls. The best part about these throws is that he pushes the ball downfield enough so Grimes and Pitts don’t have to make their adjustments to the ball until the ball is there. This leaves the defender no chance at recovering and making a play on the ball.

Trask isn’t a perfect quarterback. He still has aspects of his game to work on, like trying to force some throws into coverage. But at the end of the day, Trask has grown into one of the best signal-callers in the nation this season. 

His steadiness and reliability have been paramount to Florida’s offensive success thus far, and with the defense struggling mightily through three games, Trask will be leaned on even more as the rest of the season unfolds.

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