MIS-MANAGED CLOCK AT END OF FIRST HALF
After scoring touchdowns on their two previous possessions, the Gators took over at their own 40 with 3:19 to play in the first half. Another score, ANY score would have sent the Vols into the locker room down double-digits and put unreal pressure on their freshmen quarterbacks. Instead of allowing Chris Leak to attack, Florida runs the ball three times and throws two safe passes taking most of the time off the clock, setting up fourth and four on the Vols 44 yard line.
Okay I say out loud to no one in particular, they're going to run the clock down to eight or nine seconds and take a shot at the end zone. I would have preferred they hurry up, go for the first down and try for field goal range, but a shot at the end zone is fine, especially when you have a guy the size of Dallas Baker to try and go up and get it.
Instead, the Gators take a delay of game penalty and punt with six seconds to go! A strange decision indeed. Punting in that situation is riskier than a "Hail Mary" pass, and you don't have to go too far back in the memory bank to find a time a desperation throw into the end zone resulted in points….. hmmm that would be last year's Tennessee game.
FAILURE TO EXTEND LEAD IN 3RD QUARTER
The Gators had a great chance to add to their 21-14 lead again in the third quarter when Leak led the team on a marvelous drive from the UF 23 all the way to first and goal at the one. The drive had excellent runs from Fason, Wynn and even Leak and a couple of fine passes. But then Florida broke down, losing three on first down, throwing two incomplete passes and missing a chip-shot field goal. Again, a chance to put freshmen quarterbacks down double digits went by the wayside.
DEFENSE ALLOWS CRUCIAL 4TH DOWN
Somewhat lost in the hubbub over the missed extra point, a critical penalty call and game-winning field goal, Florida had a chance to all but put the game away defensively earlier in the fourth quarter. Tennessee was facing fourth and six on the Gators 47 and used its second time out to talk it over.
A stop here and the Gators keep the lead and get the ball at midfield. Instead freshman Eric Ainge connects with Tony Brown for 32 yards under absolutely no pressure from a three-man rush. Three plays later, Tennessee scores what appeared to be the tying touchdown.
That drive saw Tennessee convert 3rd and 9 twice and 3rd and 8 for a touchdown in addition to the fourth down conversion.
I find it hard to understand why only Baker got flagged on the exchange of head slaps late in the game, but officiating did not win this game for Tennessee, clutch play did. The penalty hurt a lot, no question. But the Gators still allowed a freshman QB to complete two passes to drive his team into field goal position. And then they had to make a 50-yard field goal.
Like the FSU game last year, some calls hurt the Gators, but opponent clutch plays won both games.
Each week I will offer up what I think were the most significant positives and negatives in the Gators' performance.
- Chris Leak is so special. His play, his poise is remarkable. His leadership, see him rip the towel off Dallas Baker's head when he was brooding over his foolish penalty shows this is his team.
- O-Line is coming along. Jonathan Colon has been solid at LT, and that allows the Gators to be steady across the front. Not many tailbacks will do as well against Tennessee as Fason and Wynn's combined 30-140.
- Chad Jackson needs the ball. A 47-yard kick return, plus two catches for 120 yards adds up to playmaker.
- Offense overall is going to be outstanding. They get receivers wide open, Larry Fedora was very creative in his play-calling and they had two scoring drives over 90 yards.
NOT SO GOOD THINGS
- Gator defense needs playmakers. After 2 games, they have 2 sacks and only 1 interception even though opponents have thrown the ball 70 times.
- Special teams continue major mistakes. A muffed punt inside the ten-yard line, a kick return man steps out on the three and a chip shot field goal is missed. Florida overcame the first two with 90-plus yard scoring drives but the Gators win if they make a 21-yard kick.
- Late game strategy must change. Until the defense shows otherwise, Florida should ask the offense to keep scoring and try to put games out of reach. Saturday marks the fourth time in the last 14 games the Gators have lost the game by giving up a fourth quarter lead. That doesn't include almost letting the Arkansas game get away with 21 fourth quarter points or the Georgia game in which a ten-point lead disappeared before winning the game with a late field goal, or South Carolina getting within two in the final period.
- Run defense must tighten up. Vols ran at will early in the game, and while that slowed during the game, it was more due to the absence of Brent Schaeffer and Cedric Houston than anything else. Tennessee has out-rushed Florida 310 - 208 the last two years.
It's a long year, and this team certainly looks like it will score a lot more points than last year's did. But the key for what happens with this team will reside on the other side of the ball. The Tennessee game was the ninth time in 28 games under Ron Zook an opponent has scored 30 or more. Florida is 1-and-8 in those games. They are 16-and-3 in the others.