Gators Go Hog Wild in 63-35 win over Arkansas

Once again, all the talk (and rightfully so) will zero in on Kyle Trask and the other-worldly numbers the Florida quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate is amassing each week. He did so again Saturday night during the sixth-ranked Gators’ 63-35 blasting of Arkansas, throwing for 356 yards and six touchdowns, including five in the first half. 

But in the UF locker room, the only digit Trask and friends were concerned with (and rightfully so) was the one that continued to rise in the win column of the Southeastern Conference East Division standings. The Gators (5-1, 5-1), with their third straight victory, moved closer to clinching the program’s first division title since 2016 and accompanying berth in the league championship game.  

“Stats are cool, but we’re here to win games,” Trask said. “Whatever’s going to help us win games, that’s all I’m focused on. We’re here to win a national championship. That’s the team’s goal, just like a lot of other teams’ goal is a national championship. To do that, you have to do a great job at winning games.”

On that front, Trask definitely has aced the first half of his fifth-year senior season, with his 28 touchdown passes (compared to just three interceptions) the most through five games by any quarterback in SEC history. Against the Razorbacks (3-4, 3-4), Trask went 23-for-29 (that’s 79.3 percent), with touchdowns of nine and 23 yards to wide receiver Trevon Grimes, five and 11 to tight Keon Zipperer, who was on for the injured standout Kyle Pitts (concussion), plus 21 yards to sophomore Justin Shorter and 23 to freshman Xzavier Henderson, a pair of wideouts.  Backup quarterback Emory Jones ran for a score and tossed another, while defensive lineman Zach Taylor had a 35-yard fumble return for a touchdown, the totality of it all easily offsetting an Arkansas offense that gained 458 yards and struck for touchdowns of 47, 83 and 82 yards. 

The game never was really in doubt after Florida’s 28-point second quarter, with all four touchdowns coming by way of Trask’s right arm. In scoring the most points against an SEC opponent since a 63-5 blowout of Kentucky in 2008, UF finished with 593 yards of total offense and 36 first downs, converted nine of 12 third-down opportunities and won the time-of-possession statistics by more than 17 minutes (38:48 to 21:12).

“The wideouts did a really nice job and Kyle did a really good job distributing the ball, not getting panicky, taking what they were going to give us all night,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “They played a lot of dime, three down, soft dime defense. That’s not where we’re going to get explosive play after explosive play. You’re going to have to kind of execute your way down the field and we were able to do that most of the night.”

Yes, they were. Of the Gators’ eight touchdown drives, five went for more than 74 yards and a sixth for 65. It was more than enough to counter what the Razorbacks did with former UF quarterback Feleipe Franks under center and back in the “Swamp” after grad-transferring to Arkansas last offseason. Franks, who went 13-3 as a starter in two seasons under Mullen, had a solid night in going 15 of 19 for 250 yards and touchdowns of 47 and 82 yards to wideout Michael Woods. Franks did not turn the ball over, but faced his share of pressure from the Florida pass rush on his way to getting sacked three times. 

“I think the emotional part was good. I thought I handled it OK,” said Franks, who was greeted by boos from the “Swamp” faithful when he first took the field, but ended the night with emotional embraces with both Mullen and Trask. “It is sentimental coming back and being able to be here and play against so many guys that you created relationships with along the years.”

UF took the opening possession and drove a methodical 75 yards on 14 plays, converting both a third-down pass and fourth-and-1 run deep in Arkansas territory, before flaring a quick screen to Grimes, who zipped in from nine yards to push the Gators in front 7-0 midway through the period. Franks needed five plays and a minute and a half to even the count. He rocketed a perfect 47-yard deep sideline pass to Woods, who beat cornerback Kamir Elam and caught the ball in stride to tie the game at 7s at the 6:03 mark. 

After that, the two teams traded fourth-down fails, with Trask missing tailback Malik Davis on a fourth-and-1 at the Arkansas 16 and UF linebacker Ventrell Miller batting away Franks’ fourth-and-1 slant pass for Woods, who was open crossing into the secondary. 

Then came a scoring barrage, most of it by the home team. 

UF took over at the Arkansas 49 and the Gators took advantage of the field position. They moved to the 23, with their biggest gain just eight yards, where Trask, on third-and-11, dropped and found Grimes completely uncovered in the middle of the field and inside the 5-yard line. His second TD pass made it 14-7 with just over 10 minutes left in the second quarter. 

A three-and-out by the Florida defense gave the ball back to Trask and the Gators got creative, with a handoff into the line to tailback Dameon Pierce, who reared and tossed back the ball — flea-flicker style — to Trask. The shovel was a tad short and fell to the ground, but Trask picked it up and let fly a bomb down the left sideline, where true freshman wideout Xzavier Henderson back-pedaled a good 10 yards before settling under the ball and hauling in a 43-yard completion to the Arkansas 21. On the next play, Trask threw a laser into the right corner of the end zone. Former five-star recruting prospect Justin Shorter, the transfer from Penn State, made a five-star play on the ball, skying high, snaring the pass and coming down on his back for Trask’s third TD and 21-7 lead with 7:07 to go in the half. 

On the next snap, though, Arkansas tailback Trelon Smith (8 carries, 118 yards) sped through the line untouched and sprinted to an 83-yard touchdown. That two-score cushion was cut in half in a mere 11 seconds. 

“Obviously, we know there’s some things we have to clean up,” Carter said of the UF defense. “Our guys, we take a lot of pride. I feel like we gave up too many points. They shouldn’t be able to score that many points, so we got to go back as a defense and fix some things.”

No matter. Trask had a 65-yard, five-play answer — and another TD pass. Pierce ran for four yards on third-and-3, then Trask hit Grimes across the middle for 21 yards, then roped one for sophomore wideout Jacob Copeland in the end zone to make it six straight games with at least four TD passes. It was 28-14. 

Then came TD Pass No. 5. 

It, too, came after an Arkansas three-and-out, capped when Franks was sacked by Carter. UF went 53 yards in seven plays, including a 21-yard completion to Kadarius Toney on third-and-9, with Trask lobbing a 5-yard TD for Zipperer in the right corner with 17 seconds to go in the half, moving the Gators to a 35-14 advantage. The score was Trask’s fifth of the game — the last Gator to throw five in a half was Franks against Charleston Southern in 2018, by the way — and 27th of the season, tying him with Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa for the most TD passes through six games in SEC history. 

“He is so impressive,” said Razorbacks defensive coordinator Barry Odom, who served as interim head coach Saturday while Sam Pittman was back in Fayetteville under quarantine after testing positive for COVID earlier in the week. “I am super impressed with his patience, ability to look off the receiver and stay on target, and he has a terrific arm, I never questioned that. You can see how comfortable he is in that system, [with] playmakers around him. He is a hell of a quarterback and he is going to win a lot of games going forward.” 

The Hogs got the second-half kickoff, went to tempo and made quick work of a touchdown drive, going 75 yards in nine plays over three minutes, with Rakeem Boyd’s 12-yard run closing the UF lead to 35-21. 

Whatever drama came from that development was soon quashed by an eight-play, 83-yard drive, capped by Jones’ 1-yard touchdown run and 42-21 lead late in the third quarter. That was the start of a three-TD streak by the Gators, with Trask’s sixth scoring toss, a 12-yarder to Zipperer, and the 35-yard return by Carter off a fumble by Boyd in the backfield that put the Gators up by five touchdowns, 56-21, early in the fourth quarter. 

After that, it was stat time for the guys on the field. Trask? He was on the sideline, wearing a headset, done for the night, cheering on his teammates and keeping his focus exactly where it needed to be.

On winning. This game, but the next one, too. 

UF goes to winless Vanderbilt next week and as far as any goals are concerned there will be no bigger game for the Gators this season. Talking team goals here, of course. Trask doesn’t like when the Heisman stuff is lobbed his way. Frankly, neither does his coach. 

“What he’s got to do is prepare for Vanderbilt and get ready to have a great game next week. anything beyond that is kind of a colossal waste of time right now,” Mullen said of his red-hot QB. “We’ll see. If you want to be involved in those awards, I think the more success teams have sometimes, the more individual awards come. So I think if we keep being successful as a team, keep making plays, he’s going to have the opportunity to get individual awards.”

And, in turn, the Gators will have opportunities to play in some really big games. Call those opportunities “team awards.”