Florida’s 29-21 victory over Kentucky this past weekend may be one of the most landscape-shifting wins in program history. Who stood out in it?
Helmet stickers are hereby awarded to:
-Brad Stewart, for his fumble recovery early in the first quarter. Moments after Feleipe Franks threw an interception into triple coverage, Florida got the ball right back for him and the offense when Kentucky quarterback Sawyer Smith couldn’t hang on to the football. Stewart, in his first game back from suspension, made the most of the moment by pouncing on it and giving the Gators the ball back deep in Kentucky territory. Welcome back, Brad!
-Shawn Davis, for his 72 yard interception return to kill a Kentucky scoring drive early in the third quarter. No, there wasn’t an especially high level of skill on display by Davis here other than catching the ball and following his blockers, as this was more of a Kentucky giveaway than a Florida takeaway. Nonetheless, credit goes to Davis for making the play that was presented to him to make, and completely changing the tenor of the game.
-Feleipe Franks, for his third and ten conversion to Freddie Swain midway through the third quarter. Things seemed to be unraveling for Florida and Franks; Kentucky had just taken its biggest lead of the night (21-10) and Franks had just misfired on two straight incompletions. To his credit, though, Franks gathered himself to find Freddie Swain on third down. This helmet sticker isn’t because of the difficulty of the throw, but rather due to Franks’ impressive ability to forget about his last two prior misses, move on, and make the play at hand.
-David Reese, for his fourth down stop on the first play of the fourth quarter. Putting this simply: Reese saved the game. Right after Franks went down with a dislocated ankle, Kentucky had the ball in Gator territory with a 21-10 lead. The worst realistic scenario: with a fourth down conversion, the Wildcats bleed another couple of minutes off the clock and give Florida the ball back down 24-10 with thirteen minutes to go on their own 25 following a field goal and a touchback. Instead, Reese blew through the line and stuffed AJ Rose for no gain on fourth and one to give Kyle Trask the ball at his own 39 with 14:56 remaining.
-Kyle Trask, for his option flip to Lamical Perine for a touchdown. It’s too bad there’s no “assist” column in football, because Trask deserves one. Either that, or credit for a touchdown pass even though he technically threw the ball backward. Facing second and goal from Kentucky’s eight yard line, Trask appeared set to keep the ball on an option play. Kentucky’s DeAndre Square met him at the line for no gain- but before he went down, Trask somehow had the presence of mind to turn his head, find Perine, and accurately flip the ball to him for a walk-in touchdown.
-Shawn Davis X2, for his second interception of the game midway through the fourth quarter. Cap tip to Davis for again taking advantage of a Kentucky error. A miscommunication between Sawyer Smith and his receivers resulted in a sky ball around the midfield stripe, and Davis navigated the sideline well and made the play to again set up Trask and the offense in great field position.
-Kyle Trask X2 and Kyle Pitts, each, for their 30 yard connection late in the fourth quarter. Down 21-16 with five minutes to go in the game at Kentucky’s 36 yard line, facing pressure and less than a second away from getting drilled, Trask stepped up and found Pitts open on the crossing route. Pitts then broke a tackle at the 20 before dragging several Kentucky players with him down to the six yard line, including one who hung onto the tail of his jersey for dear life.
-Brett Heggie, for his cut block to clear the jetway for Trask on his go-ahead touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. QB draws are probably not going to be too prevalent with Kyle Trask in the game, but Mullen called one on second and goal from Kentucky’s four yard line and it worked. Left guard Brett Heggie went low and absolutely wiped out Kentucky’s Kash Daniel, allowing Trask to casually trot into the end zone, which gave Florida the lead for keeps with four minutes to go.
-Josh Hammond, for his 76 yard touchdown run to increase Florida’s lead from one to eight with :33 left in the game. As a rule, anybody who clinches a win gets a helmet sticker. The book says to go down in this situation, but college football players only get so many opportunities to score touchdowns, particularly late in close games. Hammond worked hard to earn himself a starting role, not to mention being trusted to carry the ball on a jet sweep, so I’m OK with him scoring with thirty three seconds left to make it a 29-21 game. Let the kid get his glory. Plus, if the Gators’ defense then surrendered a 75 yard touchdown drive and a two point conversion in the final :33, they would have deserved to lose.
-Kaiir Elam, for his game-ending interception. Whatever doubts remained after Kentucky had the ball down eight with :33 showing the clock, Elam erased on the final play of the game. Needing 59 yards with two seconds to go, Smith lofted up a Hail Mary that barely even reached the ten yard line. The only resistance Elam faced in picking off the pass was from his own teammate, Shawn Davis, who had plans for his third pick of the game. But although that admittedly conjures up images of Georgia-Auburn 2013, all’s well that ends well; Elam snatched it out of the air and fell down to put the game away.
And the game ball goes too… Kyle Trask. No-brainer. After seven and a quarter years of being a backup, Trask was suddenly thrown into action and asked to lead his team back from eleven down on the road. And he did, putting together a nearly perfect fourth quarter in which he completed nine of thirteen passes for 126 yards, ran for a touchdown, and somehow found Perine on the option play en route to the ground. A loss to Kentucky would have gutted this season before it even really got started, but because of Trask’s heroics- and an inspired defense behind him- everything Florida aspires to achieve each year is still in play.