When Kyle Trask boarded a Delta plane on Monday night he probably looked around confused.
Not with him on the plane were his four favorite targets, Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney, Trevon Grimes, and Jacob Copeland. The four of them have caught 174 passes from Trask for 2,778 yards, and 34 touchdowns. That’s 58.7% of the Gators’ catches, 65% of their total receiving yards, and 75.5% of all the touchdowns caught in 2020.
You couldn’t blame Trask if he took a look around, made a U-turn, and told Dan Mullen, forget this, I’m outta here.
That’s not Trask’s mentality. It never has been and never will be.
Trask remembered what was written and said heading into the 2020 season. How would the University of Florida replace Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain, Josh Hammond, and Tyrie Cleveland? It’s not possible.
Trask and the offense shut that storyline down in just one game.
“Nobody expected us to have the kind of year that we had this year when we had all those NFL receivers leave. But this is what we do here at Florida,” Trask said. “As soon as we have big-time guys leave and move on, we have more big-time guys step in and continue that winning tradition.”
Trask and the Gators proved doubters wrong, but Monday’s news of Toney and Grimes joining Pitts skipping the Cotton Bowl to start training for the NFL Draft, along with Jacob Copeland announcing he tested positive for COVID-19, brings the questions back.
The four of those receivers have more catches than 70 whole teams do in 2020. How do you replace that? On an 11-day turnaround? Against an Oklahoma defense allowing only 243 yards through the air a game?
Well, it’s a tall task but great moments are born from great opportunity.
When Kyle Pitts missed two games with a concussion and broken nose, his replacements proved that statement true. In those two games, Keon Zipperer and Kemore Gamble caught six passes for 113 yards and four touchdowns. Florida will miss Pitts, any team in the country would, but at the very least his two replacements have shown the ability to step up when called upon.
As for the receivers, Justin Shorter’s 23 catches and three scores are the highest among those left standing for the Cotton Bowl. Redshirt senior Rick Wells will probably earn the first start of his career and play in the biggest stage he’s ever played on. Who will step up in the absence of the departed?
“It’s a huge opportunity,” Trask said. “Every time you get a chance to get on the football field you’ve got to make the most of it, and I think we have a lot of up-and-coming weapons that a lot of fans are going to get to know before they really break out in this bowl game.”
There are also young players Trent Whittemore, Xzavier Henderson, and potentially even several players who haven’t seen the field this season in Ja’Markis Weston, and Ja’Quavion Fraziars.
From the outside, it looks like Florida is limping into a New Year’s Six Bowl game. You can make an argument that the Gators were just 12 points away from being an undefeated SEC Champion, ranked No. 1 in the country and playing for a shot at a National Championship.
Some may point out the group of players that won’t play and say Florida isn’t interested and they’re bringing a ragtag group to play against Oklahoma.
That’s fine. Their Heisman contending quarterback used to be an overlooked, two-star quarterback who Florida stole away from Houston Baptist, and look how that ended up for the ragtag kid from Manvel, Texas.
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