For the 11th straight time after a Florida/Tennessee football game, the Vols have gone home as losers after a 28-27 Gator victory. This was by far one of the best Florida football games I have watched in my three years as a student here thus far!
In his third career start (and fourth ever collegiate game), quarterback Will Grier had a rough outing for the most part. He was missing throws, taking sacks, and had one interception as the Gators trailed for a majority of the game.
When the fourth quarter arrived, Grier delivered. He converted three critical fourth downs with his arm and threw two touchdowns to help spark a vigorous Gator comeback. He finished the day 23 of 42 with 283 passing yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. He also ran out of the pocket eight times for just 17 yards.
On the ground, Kelvin Taylor carried the workload and was a beast as he ran for two touchdowns and 102 yards on 19 carries. Freshmen Jordan Scarlett and Jordan Cronkrite did not see any snaps in the game. It is clear that Kelvin has established himself as the bonafide starter and is ready to carry the Gator offense with his legs if needed.
Before I address the Gator receiving core, let me bring up Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd. They were incredible today in a losing effort. Dobbs ran 18 times for 136 yards and even caught a touchdown pass while Hurd ran 29 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns. In the passing game, Dobbs was limited as he completed just 10 of 17 passes for 83 yards.
In my honest opinion, I would have to give the QB advantage to Grier considering he threw two touchdowns and helped lead his team to victory in crunch time. For the running backs, Kelvin was actually the better of the two backs as he ran for the same amount of yards and touchdowns in 10 less attempts.
The Gators' ability to get their passing game going in the fourth quarter was instrumental to today's win as six Gators combined for 23 receptions. Leading the pack with six receptions was Demarcus Robinson. However, he had just 48 receiving yards (which is the least amount for a receiver with 5+ catches).
For the second straight game, the leading yard-getter for Florida was true freshman Antonio Callaway with 112 yards on five receptions. His biggest catch of the night came on fourth down and 14 when Will Grier hit him on a slant route that he took 63 yards to the house for the game-tying touchdown with l:26 left in regulation. I absolutely lost my mind when this happened and I can only imagine what was going through this young freshman's mind as he crossed the goal line.
Callaway's touchdown was only possible because Brandon Powell kept the Gators alive during the prior offensive drive. He made a critical catch on fourth down and eight before hauling in a five-yard touchdown reception to cut the score to 27-21. He finished the night also with five receptions for 64 yards and his one touchdown catch. He also had a critical block during Callaway's catch that allowed his teammate to run into the end zone untouched.
Rounding out the receivers, sixth-year senior tight end Jake McGee caught five passes for 57 yards as he was a little more involved this week. The use of him and fellow tight ends DeAndre Goolsby (who had a reception for six yards today) and C'yontai Lewis is vital if the Gators want to have a prolific passing attack.
Defensively, the Florida Gators COULD NOT TACKLE today! It was ridiculous! There were so many times in the game they had Joshua Dobbs and Jalen Hurd stopped in the backfield and too many times one or the other would escape and rip off a huge run. The Gators have to clean this up or they are going to have problems. If does not matter if they are playing Ole Miss or FAU, poor tackling will cost the Gators football games if it remains an issue.
Moving on from the tackling woes, the defense held its own considering starting cornerback Jalen Tabor was out for the game. The two leading Gator tacklers were both safeties Keanu Neal and Marcus Maye with 13 and 10, respectively. Both of them forced a fumble and Maye broke up one pass. Fellow secondary-mates Vernon Hargreaves III (two) and Quincy Wilson (four) combined for six tackles, but neither made too much of an impact during the game.
Between the d-line and linebacking core, Jonathan Bullard (eight, 3.5 for loss), Jarrad Davis (seven, 1.0 for loss), and Antonio Morrison (six, 2.0 for loss) combined for 21 tackles! Bullard and Morrison also notched two of the three Gator sacks with defensive end Alex McCalister recording one sack as well.
Also worth noting, defensive lineman Bryan Cox Jr. forced a fumble and took it back to the house for a touchdown. However, it did not count as Cox's knee was down when he recovered the fumble. Personally, I think that rule should be modified in college football to emulate the NFL's version, where a player who is down with the football can still advance until he is touched by a defender.
One of the main reasons Tennessee scored half of its points was due to a couple trick plays. The first came in the first quarter and involved a double pass from QB Joshua Dobbs to receiver Jauan Jennings and back to Dobbs for a touchdown. The second was a jump pass from running back Alvin Kamara to tight end Ethan Wolf for 58 yards which set up a Jalen Hurd touchdown run.
If you eliminate both these plays, then Florida wins this game by two touchdowns. Tennessee knew they had to use these gimmicks because there was no way they could directly attack Florida's potent defense and be successful.
In the special teams department, Florida kicked no field goals. The only field goal they lined up for ended up being a decoy because the Gators opted to go for it on fourth down after a Tennessee timeout. For Tennessee, kicker Aaron Medley nailed two field goals and was called upon with three second left and the score 28-27 to kick a potentially game-winning field goal from 55 yards out.
Medley had never attempted a field goal of more than 50 yards and he shanked the kick wide right. When he missed, I began to celebrate what had been an incredible comeback. However, I feared in the back of my mind that Coach Mac had called his final timeout to ice the kicker. Unfortunately, I was right. So for a few more seconds, I had to anxiously wait to see if the streak would remain intact.
Medley's second kick looked good, but ended up going wide right by less than a foot! I jumped on one of my best friends, Will Davis, after the miss and ran around to celebrate what had been an incredible finish.
I will say right now that I am not a fan of icing the kicker in this situation considering he has never kicked from a distance that far. Also, it gives him a practice kick, and that only increases his chances of making it if he gets two cracks at it essentially. Regardless, it all worked out and Coach Mac avoided some unnecessary heat for a questionable coaching call.
To conclude my special teams' spiel, Gator punter Johnny Townsend punted seven balls for 347 yards and an average of 49.6 yards. He pinned Tennessee inside the 20-yard line three times and his longest punt was 61 yards long. Handling kickoff duties was redshirt freshman Jorge Powell, who nailed two touchbacks in five kickoffs. He also took over for Austin Hardin as place kicker and nailed all four of his extra point attempts.
This was a great comeback win for the Florida Gators. Will Grier took some bumps early in the game but never lost his composure. He showed a lot of poise and made some big throws down the stretch to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
The Gators were 5/5 on fourth down with a conversion in the second and third quarter, and three in the fourth quarter. The Gators showed so much resiliency as they were down 13 at one point and kept on fighting to ultimately break Tennessee's heart for the 11th straight year.
For Tennessee, it's just another heartbreaking loss. I thought blowing a 17-point fourth quarter lead at home to Oklahoma was bad, but today's loss might take the cake. To me, I feel like there is a monkey on the backs of these teams with long losing streaks.
For instance, Tennessee was up 9-0 going into the fourth quarter against Florida last year, but ended up losing 10-9. Now this year, they had a 13-point lead with a little over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and once again could not put the Gators away.
With the win streak against Tennessee now at 11 and an elated fanbase once again excited about Gator football, Florida (4-0) has some momentum going into their highly touted matchup with #3 Ole Miss (4-0). The last time these two hooked up was in 2008 in The Swamp and Ole Miss escaped with a 31-30 upset victory over a #4 ranked Florida team. As well all know, Tebow gave his famous postgame speech and Florida would go on to win the National Championship that year.
It is very funny to me how the roles are reversed this time around. Ole Miss is a very good team and I honestly believe Florida will not have much of a chance next Saturday. However, it is college football and strange things tend to happen every Saturday. That being said, I am going to pick Ole Miss to win this game. Kickoff time is 7 p.m. on ESPN. It should be a fun one to watch!
Looking ahead for Tennessee (2-2), this is just a brutal loss to suffer. I cannot emphasize enough how close the Vols were to ending a decade of frustration. After they finish venting to Kentucky about how they should have beaten Florida, Tennessee will turn their attention to a home game with a struggling Arkansas (1-3). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
One final thought: That was one heck of a win! Go Gators! 11 straight years of dominance over the Tennessee Volunteers!
*All stats accredited to Gatorzone.com, Winsipedia.com, & UTSports.com