Well, that just happened. Florida beat Tennessee on a Hail Mary pass as time expired to give the Gators a huge boost in the race for the Sec East title. Here is the report card:
Rushing Offense: C
Don’t look now but Florida may have finally found a playmaker on offense. The Gators rushed for 168 yards on 29 carries against Tennessee, but most of the yardage was of the pedestrian type that doesn’t really over the offense. Lamical Perine went for 55 yards on 11 carries, while Mark Thompson contributed 30 yards on his own seven totes. These numbers are ok, but they are not going to frighten anyone the Gators face this season.
That is where freshman Malik Davis comes in. Davis rushed for 94 yards on four carries, showing the dynamic speed that this offense seems to have been lacking. Davis should have scored on his longest run, but the ball was popped out of his grasp by a Tennessee defender near the goal line. If Davis can run like this every week then he will have to become a bigger factor in the running game in short order.
Passing Offense: D+
The Florida offense just isn’t going to go anywhere until the passing attack gets better. Feleipe Franks’ stat line shows that he went 18-of-28 for 212 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Those numbers are not great for a college football game and they are even worse if you take away the miracle Hail Mary- where Tennessee played some of the worst late-game defense you will ever see- which added 63 yards and a touchdown to his total.
The offensive line is still bad, but they seemed to be a little better this week. The Gators allowed two sacks, three tackles for a loss, and two hurries to the Vols, but Franks still has to be quicker and more accurate with his passes. He also cannot have interceptions like the one he threw here, a play that really should have swung the game in Tennessee’s direction for good.
Rushing Defense: C
It turned out that the Gators best rushing defense against Tennessee was the Vols reluctance to have star running back John Kelly pound the ball whenever they got close to the Florida line. Tennessee had numerous goal to go situations in the second half of this game where they decided to try to throw the ball as opposed to letting their best player try to get into the end zone on the ground. The result was pretty much as expected and Butch Jones had plenty of explaining to do after the game regarding his ridiculous play calling.
When Kelly was given the ball he was electric. He rushed for 141 yards and a touchdown, yet he didn’t even reach 20 carries on the day. The Florida defense actually played Kelly pretty well, he is just one of those backs that is so good he is always going to make yards on a Saturday afternoon.
Passing Defense: A
The play of the passing defense is what kept Florida in this game. The Gators swarmed all over Tennessee quarterback Quinten Dormady, then blanketed his wide receivers on the back end of the field. The result was that Dormady had a rotten day under center, passing for 259 yards on 21-of-39 through the air with just one touchdown and three interceptions.
The Gators were also able to turn their defensive pressure into points for the second consecutive outing to start the season. C.J. Henderson picked off an ill-advised pass from Dormady at the start of the fourth quarter and returned it 16 yards for a score. The Florida defense only managed one sack on the day, but their nine quarterback hurries were more than enough to have Dormady running for his life and firing off-balance passes into traffic.
Special Teams: B
The Florida special teams unit didn’t really do a whole lot special, but they were much better than a Tennessee unit that cost the Vols dearly in a close game. Kicker Eddy Pinero was a perfect 2-of-2 on both his field goals and his extra point attempts for a total of eight points. This is in sharp contrast to the Vols kickers who combined to miss three of their five field goal shots.
Florida was also better than Tennessee in the kick return game. The Vols had zero yards on kick returns, while Tyrie Cleveland looked dangerous for Florida both times he got to bring a kick back up the field. He had a long return of 46 yards right after Tennessee had closed the score to a narrow 13-10 Florida lead. The outstanding field position on the Tennessee was 44 allowed the Gators to quickly drive in and extend that lead back to 10 points.
I’m not sure Jim McElwain coached Florida to a win here as much as Butch Jones coached Tennessee to a loss. McElwain was steady: and he deserves some credit for sticking with Franks as opposed to throwing Malik Zaire back in there: but this was a Vols win if they had any idea how to defend a Hail Mary. Thankfully for the Florida coach the Vols did not and now we move on with the season.