The Florida Gators appear to have a championship quarterback in Kyle Trask.
A championship defense? Not so much.
Trask’s career-high six touchdown passes carried UF to a 51-35 season-opening road win over Ole Miss and helped his team overcome a shaky defensive effort that allowed the Rebels to keep things interesting on a chilly, drizzly day at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
The Gators’ redshirt senior signal caller was on the mark from the start as coach Dan Mullen’s fifth-ranked squad never trailed Ole Miss, led by first-year coach and offensive whiz Lane Kiffin.
Trask looked to his most reliable targets on his first two touchdown throws, hooking up with All-SEC tight end Kyle Pitts and senior wide receiver Trevon Grimes during two of UF’s first three drives. Trask ended the day 30-of-42 passing for a career-high 416 yards and the most touchdown passes by a UF quarterback since Chris Leak in 2004 against South Carolina.
Pitts finished with a career-high four touchdown catches — one shy of his 2019 total — and a personal-best 170 receiving yards as the Gators racked up 642 total yards, the most by UF since a 2014 win against Eastern Michigan.
But the Ole Miss attack and quarterback Matt Corral, a former UF recruit, answered the Gators’ first two scores to knot the game at 14-14. Corral connected with Dontario Drummond on a 46-yard touchdown following a breakdown on the back end of the Gators’ defense — a recurring theme.
Corral was 20-of-27 passing for 354 yards and three touchdowns, along with a fourth-quarter interception. Ole Miss gained 613 yards.
Trask was ready to give the UF defense a big advantage, adding a pair of touchdown passes — to senior Kadarius Toney and Pitts — to help the Gators build a 28-14 lead. Florida took control of the game with a 71-yard touchdown pass from Trask to Pitts during the second play of the second half.
Ole Miss, a 12-point underdog, never got closer than 14 points.
The ejection of Gators senior safety Shawn Davis for targeting early in the game, along with the absence of senior defensive back Brad Stewart for undisclosed reasons, did not help. The absence of senior starting defensive tackle Kyree Campbell and senior linebacker Jeremiah Moon, a key reserve, also undercut the effort of coordinator Todd Grantham’s defense.
The Gators did receive an encouraging performance from Georgia transfer Brenton Cox Jr., who had eight tackles, including 2.5 for a loss, and batted down a pass during Ole Miss’ second series that was intercepted by freshman defensive lineman Gervon Dexter. The team’s top recruit in the 2020 class, Dexter also had a tackle for loss during the Rebels’ opening drive.
Gators middle linebacker Ventrell Miller led UF with a career-high 15 tackles, 13 of them solo, as the 15 pounds he lost during the offseason clearly improved the redshirt junior’s speed to the football. Freshman Rashad Torrence replaced Davis and recorded eight tackles.
Another highlight for the Gators was a 55-yard field goal by junior kick Evan McPherson, the longest at UF since Caleb Sturgis in 2011.
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