Thursday, October 8, 2015

UF Football: #25 Florida Dominates #3 Ole Miss in Memorable Upset

In my three years rooting for the Florida Gators, last Saturday's contest against #3 Ole Miss was perhaps the greatest Gator football game I have ever gone to! For the first time, I actually lost my voice because of how loud I was cheering during the game. It was a complete beatdown as Florida led at the half 25-0 and won the game 38-10.

I can vividly remember screaming my head off when Florida went up 19-0 because they were absolutely killing it when NOBODY gave them a chance to compete! Not a single person in their right mind picked the Gators to win last Saturday. I sure as well did not, and I am happy I was wrong.

Let me begin with the fantastic play of redshirt freshman QB Will Grier. His confidence from the fourth quarter of the Tennessee game definitely carried over as he carved up a formidable Ole Miss defense for a QBR (quarterback rating) of 92.7. Grier completed 24 of his 29 passes (an incredible 83% completion rate) for 277 yards and a career-high four touchdowns with ZERO interceptions. All four of his touchdowns came in the first half alone!

Grier looked phenomenal and despite what Coach Mac says, he is definitely the Gators' starting QB now. I hope this was his coming out party and that finally Florida has solved the QB woes that have plagued them since Tebow' departure in 2009.

On the ground, Kelvin Taylor was once again the workhorse back as he rushed 27 times for 83 yards and zero touchdowns. UF's lone rushing touchdown came on a one-yard run from true freshman Jordan Cronkrite in the fourth quarter for the final Gator touchdown of the night.

In the receiving core, I was so happy to see Grier spread the ball out among his receivers and tight ends. Junior Demarcus Robinson led all receivers with eight receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown. Right behind him, tight end Jake McGee was a reliable safety net all game as he nabbed six catches for 29 yards and one touchdown. Many of his catches were clutch as they came on third down to keep drives alive.

Jake McGee catches a touchdown pass to put the Gators up 13-0. Photo credits: Anthony Tolomeo

True freshman Antonio Callaway continued to be brilliant as he caught three passes for 30 yards and a touchdown. Rounding out the touchdown club is Brandon Powell, whose lone reception was a big one as he took it 77 yards to the house.

With Callaway and Robinson as the interchangeable/bonafide number one and number two receivers, McGee as a legitimate offensive weapon, and Powell as the speedy number three wide receiver, the Gators have finally put together a passing attack that can and should be feared.

The Gators outgained Ole Miss 355-328 and impressively moved the ball against one of the stoutest defenses in the SEC and the country. The NFL-bound Denzel and Robert Nkemdiche brothers of Ole Miss did nothing as Denzel had five tackles and Robert had just one. As the Gators gashed Ole Miss with their offense, the Rebels could not do anything against a smothering Gator defense that forced four turnovers.

Ole Miss did not score a touchdown until they were nearly four minutes left in the fourth quarter. QB Chad Kelly was a non factor as he lost two fumbles and threw an interception. Kelly's favorite target and stud NFL prospect Laquon Treadwell did nothing with Jalen Tabor on him as he caught five passes for 42 yards and no touchdowns.

Ole Miss's offense was so inept against Florida that at the start of the second half, the Rebels took 10 minutes to drive down the field only to have to settle with a field goal. At that point, I knew Florida had the game won.

The defense flew around and made plays left and right. Senior linebacker Antonio Morrison tied a career-high with 16 tackles (3.5 for loss) while also notching 0.5 of a sack. After him, the UF secondary feasted as Vernon Hargreaves III, Keanu Neal, and Brian Poole all notched seven tackles a piece for a grand total of 21.

In addition to solid tackling as a core, the defensive backs individually thrived as VH3 picked off Chad Kelly and almost scored, Neal broke up a pass with a ridiculously hard hit, and Poole had a 0.5 tackle for loss.

The staunch Gator D doesn't end there though as linebacker Jarrad Davis had six tackles (1.5 for loss) including a sack and pass breakup. On the defensive line, Jonathan Bullard had five tackles (1.5) including a sack and pass breakup, Alex McCalister had four tackles (one for loss) including a sack, and Caleb Brantley and Taven Bryan each had 0.5 of a a sack.

As I mentioned, Ole Miss had four turnovers with the VH3 interception and three fumbles. The Gators got on track when Bryan Cox Jr. recovered a fumble in the first quarter. Then Marcus Maye forced a fumble in the third quarter that Alex McCalister recovered. Funny enough, McCalister returned the favor in the fourth and forced a fumble of his own that true freshman CeCe Jefferson caught in the air with one hand and nearly took to the house before being stopped just short of the end zone at the inch-yard line!

I was so proud of the defense and how they stood the test against an offense that had proven it was explosive enough to beat the likes of Alabama. Ole Miss's running game was shut down as the Rebels combined for 69 yards and Chad Kelly always seemed to be under constant pressure as the Gators sacked him four times.

I thought it was so smart of Coach Mac to throw Jalen Tabor on Laquon Treadwell as opposed to VH3. With VH3 not on Treadwell, it made it so much easier for him to shut down any other Ole Miss receiver he was asked to cover. For Tabor, it was up to him to hold his own against a stud wideout and he definitely did!

Ole Miss did its best to exploit the matchup, but it really just put the pressure on Treadwell to carry the passing game. With Ole Miss's other outside guy being shutdown by Vern, Treadwell simply could not get anything going against Florida's #2 corner as Kelly targeted him just nine times.

Besides shutting down Treadwell, Florida scoring 19 points off of turnovers was also instrumental to this extraordinary upset victory. A huge lead at home made it easier for Florida's offense to keep a rhythm going and not tighten up in the late stages of the game.

Before I give my final thoughts, let me tell y'all how special teams did. As it looks going forward, Austin Hardin may not kick for the rest of the season. Instead, redshirt freshman Jorge Powell has taken over the role and done a stellar job! He made both of his fourth quarter field goal attempts (with the longest being 31 yards), made two of his three extra point attempts, and managed four touchbacks on eight kickoffs.

Jorge Powell kicking off as the special teams unit prepares to make a play. Photo credits: Anthony Tolomeo

In the punting aspect, Johnny Townsend continues to make his case for the Ray Guy Award (given to the best punter in college football). The redshirt sophomore punted five times for an average of 47 yards per punt while pinning Ole Miss within their own 20-yard line twice. He is an absolute stud and will soon garner the name "Johnny Football" from me if he keeps this up.

In my opinion, Florida's upset over #3 Ole Miss last Saturday is one of the greatest upsets in school history! It was by far one of the best Gator defensive performances I have seen in person. Even more than that, it serves as payback for the 2008 home game that Ole Miss narrowly won by a score of 31-30. Seven years later with the roles completely reversed, the 2015 Gators showed up and smacked around arguably the best team in the SEC (at the time).

Coach Mac has this Gator team passionate and fired up. I can only hope that Florida (5-0, 3-0 in SEC play), now #11 in the polls, stays motivated going into their road game with Missouri (4-1, 1-1 in SEC play). It is definitely a trap game with LSU looming just a week later.

The Gators definitely have a score to settle with Mizzou, having lost two straight with the last loss being a 42-13 beatdown during last year's homecoming game to the Tigers. It will hopefully be different this time around as #11 Florida is definitely the better of the two. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. and the game can be seen on the SEC Network. I have the Gators taking this one by 14 points to go 6-0.

For Ole Miss (4-1), they dropped to #14 in the polls and are by no means out of the SEC West hunt. Their National Championship hopes are more than likely over, but they can still set up a potential rematch with Florida in the SEC Championship if they win out.

The Rebels' next game is back at home against the New Mexico Stage Aggies (0-4), who they should beat by 40+ points. Kickoff is set for noon and this game can also be seen on the SEC Network.

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