Adjustments are vital in the game of football. As the Florida Gators have exploded onto the scene with one of the most dominant passing attacks in football, defenses have had to adjust accordingly and try to get the Gators uncomfortable.
You'd figure, defenses should try getting more pressure on UF's quarterback. The issue? Florida's offensive line has done its job in pass protection all year. And even when pass rushers get through, Kyle Trask is completing a fine 59.7% of his passes, having tallied 682 yards, seven touchdowns, and just two interceptions under pressure per Pro Football Focus.
Blitzing isn't working either, as Trask is 42-of-66 (65.2%), throwing for 665 yards, 15 touchdowns, and just three interceptions against five or more rushers on the year (PFF).
Yet, over the last two weeks specifically, defenses have found a way to slow Trask and Co.'s roll, at least briefly. Instead of loading the box with rushers, allowing a smart signal-caller like Trask to check into quick reads and get the ball out fast, defenses are now dropping more players into coverage to eliminate UF's explosive plays and tighten passing windows.
“First of all, I think Kentucky did a great job of trying to keep our explosive plays to a minimum and I think they had a great game plan," Trask said this week after posting a season-low of 256 yards and three touchdowns (a bad performance by Trask's standards, but one that most college QBs would wish for) against the Wildcats.
"We like to throw the ball a lot and mix it up," continued Trask. "A lot of defenses have been… we’ve been seeing a lot of drop-eight looks trying to slow us down and limit those explosive plays that we’re capable of with all of our weapons on offense."
The strategy appears to be working at the start of recent games, as Florida has scored just three first half touchdowns in the last two weeks. Prior to that, UF had scored at least three first half touchdowns in every game other than the Missouri contest, which came after a 21-day stretch between games given Florida's COVID-19 outbreak. The Gators ended up beating Missouri on Halloween, 41-17.
Over the first five games of the season (Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Missouri, and Georgia), Trask averaged 10 explosive (15+ yards) completions, 254.6 explosive passing yards, 25.5 yards per explosive completion, and 2.4 explosive touchdowns per game.
Compare that to his last three outings (Arkansas, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky - the Razorbacks played “soft dime” defense in an attempt to limit big passing gains, too): 7.3 exp. completions, 206.7 exp. passing yards, 28.2 yards per exp. completion, and two exp. touchdowns per game.
Kentucky allowed the fewest explosive passing plays of any defense the Gators have taken on this year. Trask ended the game with five such completions for 157 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown to Kyle Pitts on Florida's first drive of the game. UK sent four rushers with seven men in coverage here - the fourth rusher being a delayed second-level linebacker.
Trask's explosive passing numbers have dropped a bit in average completions, yards, and touchdowns per game over his last three showings, although his explosive efficiency is up as he's averaging nearly three yards more per explosive completion than he was before.
When you’re completing 71.4% of your passes as a QB, you can afford 2.7 fewer explosive completions per game than your usual 10, as Trask is currently. The most important thing to remember: Florida is still winning games by double digits as it has all year.
Simply put: There is less opportunity for explosive passing plays for Florida as opponents are doing their best to prevent such plays. However, those opponents are doing a bad job at it, as Trask is still comfortably finding ways to move the ball down the field and Florida is still handily winning ball games offensively.
Trask understands that there has been a slight dip in explosive passes. Heavy-drop looks from defenses have allowed Trask to slice-and-dice his way with an efficient, more underneath passing attack at times such as at the beginning of the second half against UK. Still, Trask is hungry for more points, and wants to pair that efficiency with the explosion we saw earlier in the year.
"We’ve just got to overcome those things and be more efficient as an offense," said Trask. "Putting the maximum amount of points that we can up while we have the ball in our hands.”