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Oklahoma dominates Florida in Cotton Bowl

By Edgar Thompson
Orlando Sentinel/TNS

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask clenched his fists in frustration and yelled at himself as he trudged dejectedly to the Gators’ sideline.

Following Trask’s third straight, drive-ending interception to open the Cotton Bowl, his record-setting run this season had hit a wall Wednesday night at AT&T Stadium outside of Dallas. The Gators soon would following a 55-20 beatdown by Oklahoma.

With more than two dozen family members on hand in his home state, but several of his top playmakers back in Florida, Trask’s storybook rise to the top of the sport would not have a happy ending. It was more like a nightmare for the 22-year-old.

Trask’s struggles, including a pick-six on the second drive, allowed the No. 6 Sooners (9-2) to stake a 17-0 lead during the opening seven minutes and ultimately cruise to their seventh straight win.

The Gators (8-4) rallied briefly behind backup QB Emory Jones to cut the lead to 17-13. But UF failed to cash in on its first-half red-zone opportunities - scoring six points on three trips inside the Oklahoma 20 - and once again suffered too many second-half defensive breakdowns.

A once-promising season ended with the Gators’ first three-game losing streak under third-year coach Dan Mullen.

A Florida win seemed unlikely without six starters from last week’s narrow SEC title game loss to top-ranked Alabama. Oklahoma was an eight-point favorite by kickoff after UF opened as a three-point favorite 10 days earlier.

No one, though, could have predicted Trask’s stunning no-show in Arlington, Texas. Less than a week after Trask was named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, college football’s top individual award, the Gators were quickly reminded football is a team sport.

Florida was no match for a fellow college football blueblood with so many key players focusing on their NFL futures.

But unlike All-America pass catchers Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney and the other half dozen starters who did not suit up, Trask - who had waited seven years dating to his high school days as a backup to finally get his chance to start - did not pass up a chance to play.

The native of Houston was not going to miss his final game at UF, even though he had nothing left to prove. Lining up with less experienced replacements at receiver, Trask’s timing and chemistry were off from the start, culminating with his worst performance as a Gator.

The redshirt senior finished 16-of-28 passing for a season-low 158 yards and no touchdowns after throwing at least two every game this season en route to a school-record 43. Trask’s three interceptions equaled his total during the season’s first nine games, when the 8-1 Gators had designs on a spot in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

The one time the Gators’ offense ran smoothly at all Wednesday night, Jones was on the field with fellow backups he had worked with all season.

Jones’ familiarity with his supporting cast came in handy during a 16-play scoring drive to cut Oklahoma’s lead to 17-10. Following a fumble by tailback Rhamonde Stevenson in Sooners territory, the Gators settled for a 35-yard field goal from Evan McPherson after two straight incompletions and a sack of Trask.

The Sooners struck back with touchdowns on their next two drives behind quarterback Spencer Rattler. The freshman star first threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Theo Wease, who weaved through a sea of would-be tacklers. Rattler then accounted for 43 of OU’s 60 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run, to give his team a comfortable 31-13 halftime lead.

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley’s team continued to pile on during the second half, ending the night with 684 yards and the most points against the Gators since their 62-24 loss to Nebraska in the 1995 Fiesta Bowl.

A national championship was at stake that night in the Arizona desert.

Not long ago, the Gators were upbeat entering the 2020 season and hoped to earn a shot at winning the school’s fourth national title.

Instead, Mullen’s squad enters the offseason with a lot of work to do in order to get back into the national title conversation.

Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley holds up the Cotton Bowl Championship trophy with his team after a 55-20 win against Florida at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020.