To quote the legendary Frank Barone, “Holy Crap!” After three quarters of brutally ugly football, the Florida-Tennessee game turned into a bonfire. Both teams had multiple opportunities to put the game away but each kept shooting themselves in the foot. The Vols missed three field goals and threw three picks. Florida fumbled twice at the end of long runs one of which would have been a touchdown that likely would have put the game out of reach. Some credit must be given to defensive players for both teams that forced opponent’s mistake, but this game was far from a thing of beauty. Except for the final nine seconds that is. This was a spectacular finish to a very poorly played game.
Yes, that final play, which I would not really call a Hail Mary because it was actually just a well-executed pass route, was amazing. The Gators and the Gator Nation have desperately needed a moment like that one. The offense has been so unbearable to watch for so long that a quick strike from 63 yards to reclaim a game that had been steadily slipping away was one of the greatest moments in the history of Florida football. The “Heave to Cleve” will become legendary. Many Gator fans continue to pine over the loss of Will Grier still to this day. Can we move on now? Saturday was a perfect parallel to Grier’s sudden rise to stardom in the eyes of fans. A long late-game touchdown to defeat Tennessee. Where have we seen that before? Let’s all hope that this story stops following that script about here. Hopefully, Felipe Franks will make better off-field decisions than Mr. Grier. A moment like Saturday’s final play can springboard a young quarterback to greatness.
However, as the euphoria begins to waft away on the weekday breeze, the realization begins that perhaps the miraculous win is blinding our eyes to the fact that many of the same problems that have plagued the Gators for so long were still evident on Saturday. Tennessee outgained Florida 442 yards to 380 and possessed the ball 32 minutes and 45 seconds to Florida’s 27:15. The Vols out-rushed the Gators 183 yards to 168 yards. Florida still did not have a rushing touchdown although as Maxwell Smart would say, “missed it by that much”. The Gator offense still only produced two touchdowns and one of those was on the 63-yard prayer on the final play. This was not a spectacular game offensively. And, while the defense made plays to keep the Gators in the game, Tennessee put up good numbers offensively. I am not trying to rain on everyone’s parade here. I just want to point out that this game could just as easily be just a fortuitous win as a the turning of the proverbial corner.
As for Franks, we saw Treon Harris hit a couple of long bombs early in his Gator career. That did not translate into Harris being an effective quarterback for the program. I do not get the feeling that will be the case with Franks. It seemed that the coaching staff tried hard to coach Treon out of his shell but he struggled with the idea of slinging the ball around when needed. Franks strikes me as someone capable of becoming a bit of a gunslinger as his confidence, and more importantly the coaches’ confidence, grows. That final play could go a long way to create that confidence all around. This is a team that plays good enough defense to overcome a few freshman mistakes by Franks. Cut him loose and let him go make plays. So what if he has a few turnovers? Frankly my dear….. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
There were some bright spots besides Franks and Tyrie Cleveland Saturday. CJ Henderson had his second pick-six in as many games. Malik Davis showed a nice burst of speed for what should have been a long touchdown run. Hopefully, Davis will learn to secure the ball next time. Kadarius Toney touched the ball five times for 45 yards. Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier are starting to find ways to get the ball into the hands of the playmakers. That trend must continue to grow stronger as failure to do so is a big part of the offensive struggles.
Next up is Kentucky and this will be the best Kentucky team Florida has faced in a very long time. The Wildcats are averaging nearly 25 points a game. Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson has a 140.9 QB rating. Running back Brandon Snell JR is averaging almost 100 yards and a touchdown a game. They might well be a better overall team that Tennessee and are clearly better coached. Florida will have to play better in all aspects of the game to get a road win and keep the streak alive. More offensive floundering will doom Florida Saturday. It is time for this team to either start playing like a championship team or accept its place as a middle of the pack SEC team. The Gators took a nice step in the right direction Saturday but will need to take another big step forward to keep winning. Fortunately, this is not really the first road game for these young guys after the trip to Dallas in week one. This team heads to Lexington with some seasoning and have faced more than their share of adversity this year. What I would like to see is things FINALLY fit together and the Gators flex some muscle by blowing Kentucky off the field. That could indeed be a springboard to a special season.