I am not going to downplay the importance of inserting quarterback Treon Harris into the lineup on Saturday. By the time he was thrown in, this ardent supporter of Jeff Driskel was more than ready to see him get a chance to try and ignite a spark and do something for the team. He did just that when he quickly led the gators on their only two scoring series of the contest and then helped run out the clock to end the game. Kudos to Harris, he deserves to do much more, but we have to go somewhere else first for the story of this win.
Back where they belong...
This win goes to the Florida defense and their relentless and tireless effort through the face of adversity in this game. There were some that talked a good game during the week and then they went and backed it up.
Tennessee managed just nine points on the day, a team that put up 32 points on Georgia last week, was held out of the end zone and settled for three field goals and that after being handed the ball inside the Florida 17 and 13 yard lines on separate series. This defense hardly bent and definitely didn’t break.
It was a welcome change from the last two games where the defense had too many big gaffs that either left wide open receivers that were uncovered or running in the middle of mixed up zones due to the lack of communication.
The secondary was helped by a pretty consistent pass rush that netted six sacks and three quarterback hurries on Tennessee’s senior Justin Worley. Worley threw for 205 yards, but had just 26 receptions on 39 passes and two interceptions, a little more than four yards per attempt on the day.
Rightfully so, it was sophomore Keanu Neal’s interception on Tennessee’s last drive that was really the play that sealed the victory for the Gators. That was Neal’s team leading third INT of the season. Vernon Hargreaves, the Gators’ All-American cornerback made an interception in the end zone that also proved to be the difference in the game. This after Tennessee just received the ball deep in Gators territory after an interception. It was Hargreaves first INT of the year and fourth of his short career so far.
The secondary got a boost this week with the insertion of true freshmen Duke Dawson at safety and Jalen Tabor at cornerback. Tabor’s start meant that Brian Poole could move to the NICKEL spot, where he is most natural and played solid most of the day.
Tabor had a nice one-play stat line with a strip-sack-fumble recovery of Worley from a cornerback blitz. The play gave the ball to the Gators on the Tennessee 30 and resulted in the only Florida touchdown on the day.
The Florida defensive line as mentioned played well. Dante Fowler was second on the team with six tackles and had a half sack and tackle for loss in the contest. Junior defensive end Jonathan Bullard was moved inside for this contest and was as disruptive as we have seen him play and finished just behind Fowler with five tackles. Sophomore Bryan Cox took the place of Bullard on the outside and also finished with five tackles that included three quarterback sacks and a quarterback hurry on the day. It was the first three-sack game by a Gator since Carlos Dunlap had three at Mississippi State on Oct. 24, 2009.
Maybe the most impressive stat from the defense on the day was that Tennessee managed just 28 yards rushing on 29 rushing attempts. You will win a lot of games with that stat.
It really was a wonderful defensive performance that followed the worst defensive outing in school history just one game earlier.
The offense was a different story…
All of the spark that Harris provided at quarterback won’t matter down the road if the Florida receivers don’t learn to catch the ball. Four dropped passes in the hands of receivers in the first quarter alone, including three through the hands of sophomore Demarcus Robinson, is a stat that are will lose a lot of games.
No matter what happens at quarterback, if they don’t get the drops fixed, the Gators do not have a running game equivalent of Arkansas to win enough games.
We do need to give Harris proper credit. While he was only 2-4 for 17 yards passing and did make one throw that could have been intercepted, he was calm, cool, and collected when in control of the offense and he just had seemed to bring out more in his teammates than when the veteran Driskel was in the game.
That he directed the Gators from a nine point deficit and to the win in the fourth quarter, was as impressive as anything he really did on the field. The nine points down was the largest 4th quarter come from behind since the Kentucky game in 2003 and it was the second best road comeback for a Gator team on the road since 1966.
Do I think he should lead the gators starting now? Yes I do. Do I think there shouldn’t be competition for the position? No. They need both guys ready and there are situations that I believe Driskel might be more prepared to handle. But Harris brings something we just haven’t seen out of Driskel.
Despite all the drops and sometimes erratic play from Driskel, the Gators did convert seven 3rd down conversions on the day. Tennessee had allowed only 11 third down conversions in the previous four games.
Matt Jones was the man for Florida. He ran 23 times for 114 yards and a touchdown on the day and it was his third time to rush for 100+ yards in his four games this season. When Treon came in, the staff leaned a lot on Jones to help the young man out.
Florida managed just four big plays on offense on Saturday. That needs to double on a regular outing. Jeff Driskel had a16-yard run in the first quarter , and Matt Jones had a 16-yard run, second quarter, 11-yard run, and 32-yard run. Al of those drops could have doubled this number.
Special teams were solid.
Austin Hardin was another hero on the day after nailing a 49-yard field goal to take the only lead and winning score of the game. The much maligned Hardin struggled all of last season and missed one already this year, but nailed his only try late in the fourth quarter for the margin of victory.
Punter Kyle Christy had a low punting average of 35.2 yards, but was able to pin the Vols five times inside the 20 yard-line on eight punt attempts.
Andre Debose averaged a solid 30 yards per return on kickoffs, but wasn’t great on punt returns making a few mistakes not receiving the ball and letting it bounce for extra yardage.
All in all it was a good day for the Gators who needed a win in the worst way. An outstanding defensive game full of big time adjustments from the previous game, helped an anemic offense that found its way late in the contest. Special teams did enough to win as well and that is what happened.