The Olympic Games, which ended just a month ago, are defined by a famous Latin expression that captures the superiority of a medal-winning athlete: “Citius. Altius. Fortius.” Higher. Faster. Stronger. It’s the motto Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt made their own in China.
Without any shadow of a doubt, then, the Florida Gators proved to be the Olympians on Saturday in Knoxville, humiliating Tennessee for a second straight season.
The scary element of Florida’s nighty-night knockout at Neyland Stadium can be found in the fact that, much like USC’s demolition of Ohio State on Sept. 13, the Gators dismissed the Vols with almost casual ease, winning handily even though huge numbers were missing from the equation.
Think about it for a bit (or, this being Florida football, for two bits): The Gators’ offense didn’t strike with thermonuclear quickness, as it did in last year’s 59-20 throttling of the Vols. Tim Tebow didn’t pile up the stats. Florida didn’t provide an avalanche of points. You didn’t see 80-yard touchdown passes or 70-yard touchdown runs. On Saturday afternoon, the Gators methodically nudged the ball down the field, chewing up small chunks of real estate while converting a high percentage of third downs (6 of 9 in the first three quarters) and dealing the Vols a death of a thousand paper cuts, as opposed to the quick execution delivered last year in Gainesville.
This wasn’t an awesome display of offensive pyrotechnics, but this SEC East opener proved to be a dominant effort in a different sort of way for Urban Meyer’s men. All three phases of play delivered a forceful first-quarter flurry that floored Phil Fulmer’s frail outfit.
Tebow made the game’s first big statement with a jump pass on third down to enable Florida to play this game as a frontrunner. In that moment, Florida proved to be higher than the Vols.
Soon after that initial blow, Florida’s defense—which ran well to the ball all day long and rarely got caught out of position—engaged in a fine bit of ballhawking, as a powerful hit and an alert recovery just inside the boundary enabled the Gators to consolidate momentum and increase their lead to a two-possession bulge at 10-0. By causing an early turnover on defense, the Gators proved to be stronger than their opponent on the banks of the Tennessee River.
And then, once superiority had been established on scrimmage plays, the Gators decided to put their foot down in the kicking game just for good measure, as Brandon James worked his typical (but never to be taken for granted) magic to cruise to paydirt for a 17-0 lead. On that play, Florida proved to be faster than the Sons of Smokey.
Higher for 7-0. Stronger for 10-0. Faster for 17-0. In three separate moments and in all three phases of football, Florida demonstrated comprehensive superiority. Sure, Tennessee botched and butchered a few possessions inside the Florida 5 in the second quarter, but one never had the sense that the Gators were in any remote degree of danger after their 17-0 burst.
The boys in the blue pants had the better athletes, the smarter students of the game, and the more-prepared coaches who looked and acted as though they were on top of the action. Nothing offered by the Vols even threatened to eclipse the Gators in terms of quality, proving that this rivalry has once again become a one-sided affair dominated by the Orange and Blue.
Now that the Vols have been vanquished yet again, the challenge for these Gators is to keep their eyes on the ball… which is exactly what did not happen in last year’s loss at home to Auburn. With a steady and centered focus in the weeks to come, this ballclub—given its talent—can accomplish great things. It’s all a matter of putting in the effort, respecting every opponent, and allowing the results to take care of themselves.