Florida Gators football will play without Feleipe Franks starting under center for the first time since November 2017. Now, it is up to quarterbacks Kyle Trask and Emory Jones to uphold the Gator Standard on the field.
The last time Kyle Trask started for a football team was his freshman year at Manvel (Tx.) High School. Since then, he has been a designated backup: First to current Houston QB D’Eriq King in high school and then to Feleipe Franks at UF.
Still, the redshirt junior proves to be a formidable option at the position when given a chance. Trask’s 19-point rally in Lexington is just the latest example. One of the quarterback’s biggest strengths is his composure in the pocket. Making good reads and hitting receivers with ease leads to points on the board.
Case in point:
— Lucas Dolengowski (@LDolengowski) September 15, 2019
Part of the fun of college football is players earning their spots every week. Just because Trask’s great game against the Wildcats doesn’t necessarily mean he is set in stone as QB1. Gators Head Coach Dan Mullen made it very clear that redshirt freshman Emory Jones will also see the field in the wake of Franks’ injury. Jones might even start, if necessary.
Jones’ dual-threat abilities tip in favor of running more often than not.
— Olivia Granaiola (@oliviagranaiola) March 14, 2019
However, the redshirt freshman has made plenty of tight throws against non-conference opponents as a Gator. Plus, Mullen says both players have experience with the Gators’ top-tier players.
Trask and Jones are “or” quarterbacks on Florida’s depth chart; however, it is likely Trask will play the first play.
Growing Up Quickly
All – or at least a lot of – eyes will be on the Gators’ offensive line this weekend. Heading into the season, Florida’s O-line was considered one of its weakest positional links. Three sacks through three games on Franks showed that maybe the group was billed incorrectly. The Kentucky game solidified that maybe it was billed just fine.
Franks’ injury came after a Kentucky defensive lineman pulled him from the back and pinned the quarterback’s leg underneath the two players. Had UF’s left tackle not blown coverage, allowing the Wildcat to make a clear-cut run at the quarterback, it would be difficult to imagine the outcome of the play having been the same.
The Gators’ starting offensive line consists of of three redshirt juniors, a redshirt senior and a redshirt freshman. The 2’s are a redshirt junior, a redshirt sophomore, a redshirt freshman and two true freshmen. The group must lock in and fix blocking in order to take the team to the next level and keep the quarterbacks on their feet.
At least starting left guard Brett Heggie thinks so.
Outside of quarterback protection, blocking mishaps from the offensive line are part of the reason Florida’s run game is below par. This season, the Perine-Davis-Pierce trifecta has rushed for a collective 164 yards through three games on 50 attempts. Perine leads the pack in both categories, rushing for 120 yards on 34 attempts.
Walking the Walk
With Florida’s offense in an unsure position (to the public, at least), it is imperative that the team’s elite defense steps up.
On the defensive line, EDGE Jabari Zuniga and BUCK Jonathan Greenard grade out as two of the country’s top three D-linemen. Nose tackle Kyree Campbell has a respectable 13 tackles on the season, as well.
Linebacker David Reese III is coming off of a Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week award. Ventrell Miller has 15 tackles and two sacks three games into his redshirt sophomore season.
At cornerback, CJ Henderson could return to the lineup this week, per Coach Mullen, to supplement fellow starter Marco Wilson. Kaiir Elam is quietly putting up a monster freshman season, allowing just one catch in just four targets, making two solo tackles and catching two game-ending interceptions.
Kaiir Elam with his second career INT and this one is over – Gators win in Lexington pic.twitter.com/KIE2IqfE2o
— libgator (@lib_gator) September 15, 2019
With Jeawon Taylor practicing in a non-contact jersey and Donovan Stiner not allowed to play in the first half against Tennessee, the Gators will need to rely on Brad Stewart and Shawn Davis to hold down the safety position. However, that prospect is the opposite of a bad thing. Stewart recovered a Wildcats fumble, and Davis nabbed two interceptions during the game.
Tennessee is 1-2, with its only win coming over FCS Chattanooga. Its losses came courtesy of Georgia State and Brigham Young. A hungry Volunteers team could come to the Swamp hoping to play one of its best games of the season to earn some early redemption.
Florida’s Shawn Davis said the Gators will still come out swinging despite Tennessee’s record.
However, it’s hard to ignore some of the Vols’ lackluster statistics through three weeks. The defensive line has six sacks to its name. The offensive line has allowed quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to get sacked five times. Once again, the team’s opponents were one Power 5 team, one Sun Belt team and one FCS team. Comparatively, Florida leads the nation in sacks (15).
Offensively, Guarantano has a 7:2 touchdown-interception ratio on a 65.8% completion rate. Three of Vols’ wide receiver duo of Jauan Jennings and Marquez Callaway’s combined six touchdowns came against Chattanooga. One of starting running back Ty Chandler’s two touchdowns came against Chattanooga, as well.
Tennessee’s defensive back unit and linebackers will likely be the most difficult challenge for the Gators. Four Vols in those two categories have 15 or more tackles on the season. Also, linebacker Jeremy Banks also has two interceptions.
The defensive backs will only get more support this weekend with cornerback Bryce Thompson boarding the plane to Gainesville. Thompson served a three-game suspension stemming from a misdemeanor domestic assault charge in late August. Thompson earned a spot on the Freshman All-America team last season.
In short, Tennessee is looking for something to prove against one of its biggest rivals this weekend. On the other hand, Florida is looking to lock in as a fully Franks-less squad for the first time. Regardless, the Gators open as two-touchdown favorites.
Kickoff is in the Swamp at noon, but the game will stream on ESPN.