Give it a name.
It needs a name. We need to come up with a name for this game. It earned it. When a game is as classic as this, as instantly legendary as this, it gets a name. You know the club. We don’t have to spell out the 1999 Tennessee game; it is simply The Alex Brown Game. Likewise, there is no need to use any extra adjectives for the 2000 Tennessee game: it is simply known as The Drive. Green’s Behind the Defense. The Comeback. The ‘Cock Block. Fiddy-Two-Twenny. The Wilber Marshall Game. The Demolition in the Desert. The Four-Gone Conclusion. The Braveheart Game. Doering’s Got a Touchdown!
This game needs one. This game deserves one.
Houston We Have a Quarterback
Through the first two games I have broken down the quarterback battle on the macro and micro levels, analyzing the technical strengths and weaknesses of the signal callers. But not this week. I will break the plays down and grade Will Grier for the game and in the context for the season, but this game was not about production, mechanics or decision making, and certainly not about the quarterback battle. There was no Game 4 audition going on out there, no virtual co-starter looking over his shoulder, heck no backup quarterback at all. This game was about the intangibles. Overcoming adversity and making something big happen. This was not about directing the offense; it was about leading the team. It was about guts and going out and getting it.
Despite having many errors and setbacks in the first three quarters, I did not think Will had played badly. He was just missing on enough when he had opportunities to mix with the spotty offensive line play and the inconsistent effort by the receiving corps to keep the offense sputtering. But on the last two drives, He came alive and came of age. And it showed that he came to Gainesville play. This is the sort of performance that he was signed to fulfill.
And just to emphasize how clutch Will Grier was, consider these numbers:
On fourth down: 5-for-5 (100%), 1 TD, 0 INT, 123 yards (25 yards per completion)
All other downs combined: 18-for-37 (49), 0 TD, 1 INT, 160 yards (9 yards per completion)
And just a reminder: the quarterback battle is settled, but it is not over by any stretch. The book is not closed on either quarterback. The contingency that is always on fans’ minds because of our last five year track record is if Grier gets injured. But barring injury, Will still needs to continue developing in an upwards trend to keep his hold on the starting position, and Treon Harris needs to keep developing as a backup because his role in this offense is not over and his hand in the starting position may not be over, either. Things are just getting started for Will, but they are not necessarily ending for Treon.
One needs only to cast his or her mind back to 1993, when Danny Wuerffel beat out Terry Dean by playing “less worse” in tossing the final second winning touchdown pass against Kentucky and then exploding the next week in his first career start against Tennessee. This two-week turn of events was seen as the end of Dean’s career and the launching of Wuerffel’s career. It was certainly the launch of Danny’s career, but Terry was far from through with his work at Florida. Later that year Danny played a very mistake-riddled game in a loss at Auburn in which he threw multiple interceptions and almost multiple pick-sixes. The following game in the rain against Georgia, Danny continued to struggle and Steve Spurrier fired his trademark squawk at Terry: “Danny cain’t throw today in this dang rain. Whatchya got, Terry?” And Dean teamed with Errict Rhett to lead Florida to the win over Georgia, was later the MVP of the SEC Championship Game that year, Florida’s first win in that game, and was the run-away Heisman Trophy leader the following year through five games. But then there was the implosion against Auburn wherein Danny was reinserted as the starter and the roles never flipped again. And it was Danny leading the Gators to that year’s SEC Championship Game victory (with a little help from a long pass from Eric Kresser and a short pass from Chris Doering).
But even more recently, the Tennessee game was the backdrop for another Gator quarterback battle being settled, but later being unsettled. In 1999, Jesse Palmer won the job and solidified his status as the starter with The Drive in 2000, but not soon after that fateful pass was in Jabar Gaffney’s hands just long enough to be counted as a touchdown, Rex Grossman took the job away and finished the year by winning yet another SEC Championship Game. So to quote the recently departed late great Yogi Berra, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. And since so many of these flip-flopping quarterback battles began their odyssey with a win over Tennessee, might as well say it’s déjà vu all over again.
Upon Further Review
No, this is not a section about the horrible officiating, the worst officiating since the Swindle in the Swamp. This is about my rethinking some perceptions about how the Florida coaching staff performed Saturday after viewing the game without the negative passion that was stirred by the officiating. I was honestly I such a state of blind rage at the officials that I was not able to pay attention to many details of the plays as they unfolded. So I did what the refs refused to do on Saturday: calling for a replay official to weigh in the accuracy of my game day calls about the coaches’ efforts.
Firstly on defense, I thought we were being gutted at key times by not adjusting to the running quarterback plays, but upon further review, it looked like we did adjust to it just fine, but we were missing tackles and losing gap integrity. Same thing on their two trick plays; the throwback to the quarterback and the jump-pass only succeeded because a player or two left their responsibility and of course both were facilitated by badly ignored offensive holding. Incidentally, isn’t it odd that the teams we beat with jump passes are always pulling them on us so long after the coach who called them is long gone from UF?). And while missing over 30 tackles in one game is absolutely atrocious, it is the only game thus far where missed tackles were prominent and without them, the defense would have nearly shut the Vols out. In truth, the defense stuffed the entire Tennessee offense except one player. I not only re-watched this game, but also the highlights of the Kentucky game, and other than the cavalcade of whiffed tackle attempts and the frankly shocking number of egregious holding infractions on all of Tennessee’s scoring plays and big plays that led to scores, the defense would have had a similar showing as last week, likely keeping Tennessee out of the end zone the whole game.
The next big complaint I had during the game was Mac’s failure to make his case on the officiating. Whether intentional or not, Florida got absolutely cheated by the officials by their refusal to review so many blatantly questionable calls. I was beside myself in disbelief that he did not at least challenge one of them, let alone challenge and ride the officials about all of them. But upon further review, had he thrown a fit like Butch Jones did on an earlier challenge or had Mac ridden the officials with mini tirades all day like a previous Florida coach used to do, I am very confident that the refs would have been certain to give UT all the benefit of the doubt on the time mismanagement on the Vols’ last drive, and I think we may have seen a randomly blown whistle and incorrect time stoppage as we did when Ron Zook’s final game against Tennessee was lost because of it. I think that the fact that the officiating crew did not have their blood up at the end of the game, Mac took the iron out of their bias. And they are biased, as Mac pointed out in Week 2. Probably through no fault or even awareness of their own, Florida teams of the past have taken a “we’ll work around the penalties rather than correct them” approach and Florida coaches of the past have been aggressively confrontational with the game day refs. But Mac was playing the long game Saturday, not the short game, and I saw that not only in strategy but also in the desired result. Staying off of the refs’ dirt list throughout the day was absolutely instrumental in our win.
Mac also caught a lot of heat in real time for calling a timeout to ice the kicker only to watch the kicker miss what would have been the game-losing attempt and then get set up for a second chance at redemption. Although it was short-lived, with the second kick being missed a brief couple of minutes later, the Twittisphere suffered a minor eruption of loud disbelief. However, upon further review, he was not trying to ice the kicker, but rather he realized that the Gators had twelve men on the field and he had to call the timeout to keep from moving the Tennessee kicker five additional yards closer to his target – a difference that very well have corrected the six inches by which the decisive kick flew outside of the strike zone.
As hard as have been on Butch for being a bad game day coach, he was very savvy to call the trick play and to keep using the running QB to expose our over-aggressiveness, because it was the only thing they could do on offense, and he ran with it until he couldn’t anymore. And to UT fans complaining that he didn’t call a better play on their KTC drive, I don’t think they had anything left to call. And there was no reason to even give a tiny thought toward throwing the ball or doing anything else risky, because Florida’s last touchdown drive took 17 plays and over six minutes. And it was a the first and only time since their second drive of the game that Florida sustained a drive at all, let alone the length of the field. Their defense was dominating the Gators all day. There was no reason to even consider that a two-minute offense leading to a Gator touchdown could actually happen. The only conceivable way Florida could score a touchdown in that spot was if Tennessee was foolish and tried to throw in their own territory to get a first down and end the game right there.
The only way to criticize it was in hindsight, because until Florida hit that fourth down touchdown – right up to the very second UF snapped the ball on that impossible play – everyone in the stadium new Jones had made the right decision. And until they made that absolutely amazing play-of-the-decade (so far), he had. Jones made the right decision to run clock for three plays and let the defense win the game. Where Jones lost the game was earlier when he opted not to go for the two-point conversion after their final touchdown, and then again he lost the game on their last possession with the avalanche of horrid clock management and terrible confusion and communication failure on the sidelines.
The Rocky Top Glock Block
In the Florida film room this week, you had better believe that Brandon Powell is going to need some Solarcaine to ease the burn on his back from all the slaps and pats he’s going to get on it. As much as Grier and Calloway will be remembered as the biggest heroes of the game, they are not even in the position to win if not for Powell. First of all, Brandon caught a 21-yard pass on 4th-and-6 in the third quarter to set up Kelvin Taylor’s touchdown run on the very next play to keep Florida’s hopes alive by drawing the Gators within six for the first time since losing the lead at round the 8-minute mark in the second quarter. Then he grabbed a 16-yard pass on 4th-and-8 on the next-to-last Gator possession of the game to keep the drive and game alive and then one play later he reeled in the pass from Grier on a tremendous catch, stretching his body through the air to get to the end zone. After the catch, he was slammed to the ground in such visible pain that he had to recoil his frame like a snail on the ground when he wanted to leap up and celebrate. He hit the ground so hard that I thought he was going straight to the locker room for massage therapy or a rib brace. All this after he got his head so illegally and violently violated by Vol defenders that his helmet was screwed right off his noggin. And then he not only comes back into the game on the next drive, but he makes the play that won the game, showing what a tremendously unselfish player he is to come back off his route and sacrifice his body by hurtling himself through the air across three Tennessee defenders to give another receiver the greatest glory moment of the game. I am calling this the Rocky Top Glock Block because Powell flew across would-be tacklers like a bullet, where he took out three guys in a drive-by blocking, and in doing so blew away any chances Tennessee had of winning the game. All of this while Powell was battling severe cramps. And without that block, Calloway converts the fourth down with only a modest gain, and Florida still has at least forty yards to go to get the game-winning touchdown. Given how long it took to drive the field the previous possession (over six minutes) and how much time was left after that play (less that 1 ½ minutes), a big play right there may have made the difference between winning and losing. Imagine the boo-yahs he is going to get when they review those plays.
Likewise, can you imagine how much shame with which those three Tennessee defenders are going to be showered when they review the clip of the same play in the Tennessee film room this week? Not only did all three of them get fooled by the crossing receiver routes, but then for all of them to get cleaned out of the play by just one-third of the smallest non-kicker on Florida’s depth chart. There was 5’ 9”, 180-pound Brandon Powell taking out three Tennessee tacklers – not just on the same play, but on the same block. He was like Underdog flying in to save Polly Purebred from Riff Raff, Overcat and Simon Bar Sinister all at once. For every Boo-yah that Powell gets, they will simply get a “boo”. In triplicate.
This game report would not be complete without discussing how hard everyone on the Gator team fought the whole game long. Will Grier fought. The wide receivers and tight ends fought. The defense fought. But especially the offensive line fought. They have been the worst performing unit of the team all season and all game long, but the line kept battling every play, every moment. Even the guys who were whiffing over and over kept battling and were able to give Will just enough clean pockets to forge those two game-winning drives. Especially on the last play, they were able to give him one last clean pocket to connect on the game-winner. As a great microcosm of their effort, Mason Halter had just whiffed on the critical third down that allowed Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett to destroy the play, nearly got Grier sacked and could have gotten him injured. Announcer Gary Danielson – always one to cushion his player criticisms – remarked that Barnett had flat out embarrassed Halter on the play. But on the ensuing fourth down scoring play, Halter stoned Barnett’s drive and rode him around and far past the pocket, giving Grier the room to step up in the pocket and have the extra second or two he needed to let Calloway and Powell complete their crossing routes and break Antonio into the open. And when you look at the personnel on that drive – three of the five offensive linemen were sophomores, protecting a redshirt freshman throwing to a true freshman, with the path to the end zone being cleared by the block of another sophomore – you get the big picture of how the future is truly now.
A special recognition has to go to the fourth down warriors. Calloway will be forever remembered by his game-winning touchdown catch on the final fourth down of the game, but Jake McGee and Brandon Powell also caught two fourth down conversions apiece. McGee’s first one only delayed a punt three additional plays, but Powell’s first conversion came one play before the Gators’ second touchdown drive, not only putting a crucial 7 on the board, but also preventing a huge momentum-crushing letdown of a field goal attempt following a fumble recovery that the stadium thought was originally returned for a Gator touchdown. Then McGee made his second fourth down conversion to extend the drive that led to the Gators’ third touchdown, pulling them to within six points, and Powell’s second conversion came one play before that third touchdown. What’s even more impressive is that all four of the fourth down conversions that led to touchdowns were fourth-and-long, with 6, 7, 8 and 14 yards to go for the respective first downs.
The Agony of Deteeth
Nothing makes a victory sweeter than when the opposing team is arrogant and mocking the Gators or their fans during the game. This was another case of just that sort of classless taunting behavior by the opposing players. It all started on the first drive, when the trend of wagging the “no-no-no” finger in the face of the Gator ball carriers every time the Vols made a tackle. Then Tennessee quarterback Dobbs giving the hush finger to the Swamp crowd. And of course there was the basketball arm-embrace huddle dance during the game. Nothing the Gators did on the field could possibly have salted the Vols’ wounds more than those acts of arrogance.
And if you want to know just how bad the end of that game felt to those Volunteers, consider this: from the angle of the Vols’ bench, the kick appeared to be good. Butch Jones, Josh Dobbs and much of the rest of the UT bench began to rush the field in elation as the kick settled into the stands, only then to see the referees signal it was no good, ripping the proverbial heart right out of their collective chest.
Looking For a Few Good Men
The positive effect of this game on recruiting will no doubt be one of the most powerful single game impacts for years past or years to come. Especially for those prospects among the large group of elite recruits in attendance. It is virtually assured that none of them will be at another game before National Signing Day that has more electric atmosphere or a more amazing and thrilling finish than the one they were just a part of. This sort of finish probably had a better and bigger/longer-lasting impact than if Florida had blown them out from the first drive and dazzled the recruits with passing, running, defense and special teams perfection all day. That would have an analytical effect, but Saturday’s game had a visceral impact that cannot be outdone. What’s more, the struggles to get to that final 1-point winning score no doubt highlighted to the prospects that regardless of how fast Florida climbs the ladder this year, there are still plenty of opportunities for any of them to step in as true freshmen and have an immediate contribution to the depth chart.
- Hi. I’m Fourth Quarter Will Grier…and I have DirecTV
- In the fourth quarter Saturday, I went 11-for-18 (61%), for 141 yards (half of my yards for the game), and 2 touchdowns.
- Hi. I’m Fourth Quarter Butch Jones…and I have cable.
- This year there have been 191 college football games where a team has had a lead of 13 point or more in the fourth quarter. The leading team has won 188 of these games, the team trailing in the fourth quarter has won only three times. Two of those times wins have been over me, the head coach of Tennessee (Oklahoma coming back from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit and Florida coming back from a 13-point hole).
- Florida leads the Tennessee series by a 26-19 tally, but it is much more dominant that those numbers would suggest. Since 1969, Florida owns a 25-8 edge. Tennessee won 11 of the first 12 games of this series, however of the first nine games – all won by Tennessee – six were played in Knoxville and three at neutral sites. Zero were played in Gainesville. They finally agreed to play Florida in Hogtown and the Gators lost by just two, 9-7, although it was their tenth-straight loss to start the series.
- Since this series began to be an annual rivalry in 1991, the team that has won the rushing battle and the turnover battle has won almost every game. Florida won neither of those battles Saturday. The teams each got one turnover and Tennessee out-rushed the Gators by 145 yards.
- After 4 weeks of the season, Florida, Michigan, Utah, Northwestern and California are ranked, and Auburn, Oregon, Georgia Tech and Arizona are not ranked.
- There is no record of the Florida Gators ever making ten-straight fourth down conversions or five fourth downs in a single game, although those records only began to be kept in 1996. The Gators won the national title that year.
- This is the first time that an SEC team has converted five fourth downs in one game since 2007, when LSU did it to the Gators. The Tigers won the national title that year.
- This was the fourth-straight game in which the Gators got at least three sacks, something that has not happened since 2009.
So what’s it going to be?
What are we going to call this game? Fourth Down Town? He’s Going to Score (Mick Hubert’s call)?, I Just Saw Magic (Lee McGriff’s call)? Eleventh Heaven? The Tennessee Two-Point Two-Step?
This game is calling to us: Say my name!
So come up with a good one, Gator Nation. Because this was the kind of game that not only forges legend; this is the kind of game that births dynasties.