Heisman front-runner? Trask, No. 6 Florida thump Hogs 63-35

Brad McClenny-USA TODAY NETWORK
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Kyle Trask has gone from Heisman hopeful to potential Heisman Trophy front-runner in two months, much of it coming in the last two weeks.

Trask threw for 356 yards and six touchdowns, extending his school record for consecutive games with at least four TDs to six, and No. 6 Florida overwhelmed Arkansas 63-35 on Saturday night in the Swamp.

Trask repeatedly torched the Razorbacks (3-4), who were without coach Sam Pittman and without much of a chance by halftime. It was the second time this season Trask tossed six TDs in a game. He’s the only player in school history to accomplish that feat.

“The more success teams have sometimes, the more individual awards come,” coach Dan Mullen said. “If we keep being successful as a team, we keep making plays, he’s going to have the opportunity to get individual awards.”

Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks, a three-year starter for the Gators (5-1), was booed early in his return to Florida Field and unable to do much to steal the spotlight from Trask. Florida players and coaches lined up to hug Franks after the game, and the home crowd responded with a warm ovation as he left the stadium for the last time.

“It’s awesome, man, just to be just to be around those guys and see the excitement they had to see me and me to see them,” Franks said. “It’s fun. You love the game, that’s what you play it for, the relationships you build along the way.”

Trask, meanwhile, started a new streak by throwing at least four TD passes in the first half for the second straight week. He had five in Florida’s first six drives and might have had another had the Gators not failed to convert a fourth-down play at the Arkansas 16.

Still, it was Trask’s most impressive half in two years as a starter and put him in elite company as the Gators won their 11th straight at home and moved a step closer to locking up a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game.

“I think I did a great job of executing and being efficient,” said Trask, who now has an SEC-record 28 TD passes and just three interceptions in six games.

“You strive for perfection, but it’s really hard to get there,” Trask said.

The only negative for Florida: Its defense allowed a 47-yard TD pass, an 83-yard TD run and an 82-yard catch and run for another score.

Trask’s night certainly overshadowed those deficiencies.

He became the third player in school history with at least 25 touchdown passes in multiple years, joining Heisman Trophy winners Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel. Both of those guys have statues outside the stadium.

He also became the fourth in the Football Bowl Subdivision since 1996 to throw four or more TDs in six consecutive games in a single season. The list includes Colt Brennan (Hawaii, 9 in 2006), Graham Harrell (Texas Tech, 6 in 2007) and Logan Woodside (Toledo, 6 in 2016).

Trask had time in the pocket thanks to a complementary ground game and plenty of open options despite playing without dynamic tight end Kyle Pitts, who will miss another game following a concussion and nose surgery that stemmed from a viscous hit against Georgia.

His six TDs went to four different receivers: Trevon Grimes (twice), Keon Zipperer (twice), Justin Shorter and Jacob Copeland. The Gators showed no signs of a letdown following that emotional victory against the rival Bulldogs.

Franks’ return may have had a little to do with it. Florida defenders wanted a piece of him and Trask surely wanted to prove Mullen made the right call by sticking with him over Franks.

Franks completed a 47-yard touchdown pass on his opening drive and pointed to the Florida sideline as he ran to celebrate with teammates. But he did little else the rest of the night and ended up in the locker room in the third quarter with a left hand/wrist injury.

He returned with it heavily tapped and wore a glove to help protect it. He could be seen looking into the stands, possibly reminiscing about his time in Gainesville, between the third and fourth quarters as the Gators played Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”

Franks completed 15 of 19 passes for 250 yards and two scores.

THE TAKEAWAY

Arkansas: The Razorbacks’ impressive start to the season took an ugly turn in Gainesville, but they could rebound with winnable games against LSU and Missouri next.

Florida: The Gators have the offense to beat anyone and the defense to keep everyone in games.

UP NEXT

Arkansas: Is tentatively scheduled to host LSU next Saturday, but the Tigers are dealing with COVID-19 issues that prompted their game against No. 1 Alabama this weekend to be postponed. The Razorbacks have lost four straight against LSU.

Florida: Gets on an airplane for the first time since its travel-related COVID outbreak last month and faces Vanderbilt next Saturday. The Gators have won 28 of 29, including six in a row, in the series.

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.