Breaking Down the Offense…
What more can you say of Chris Leak's performance? He was 22 of 31 for 286 yards and 3 touch downs. Of his 9 incompletes, 5 were dropped. He threw an interception and had 2 throw-aways to avoid a sack. . The guy was just on and it was easy to see his sense of urgency throughout the game. He tried his damndest to carry this team on his shoulders to a win and all but did it.
The wide receivers showed some of the game breaking ability that is going to start striking fear in the hearts of opposing defenses. Chad Jackson had the longest pass play from scrimmage since a pass to Jacquez Green in 1997. OJ Small is on par to catch 70 passes. Bubba Caldwell made some great runs after the catch on Saturday night. Dallas Baker continues his improvement in route running and is becoming a steady Leak target. Jemalle Cornelius made a nice grab for a touchdown. The Gators are exploring more and more 4 and 5 wide receiver sets and this group of receivers along with Leak's maturity in the offense has made that any easy decision and a good one. We are just now starting to see the explosiveness of the receiving corps. Chad's long catch and Bubba Caldwell who lowered the boom on the defensive back in the end zone point to a bright future with this group.
The running backs didn't have a breakout game, but certainly provided a steady punch to keep the defense honest and allow for Leak and the receivers to run free in the secondary. Ciatrick Fason has become a great back in this offense and the flare pass from Chris Leak was in high form Saturday night. We mentioned it in the preseason as a new weapon, but never saw it against Eastern Michigan in the first game. DeShawn Wynn showed some nice inside running but is definitely the second back on this team right now.
The tight end is still a non-factor in the offense right now. I am almost of the mindset to think that they should just add another lineman as a tight end in running situations. My bet right now is when Dane Guthrie learns enough, this position will be a factor.
The offensive line played excellent all night. They protected well against seasoned defensive ends, but gave up 2 sacks on the night. One was a scramble that Chris lost a yard on, the other was whiff from center Mike Degory. Still, Degory and the gang really gave Leak time enough to have his best passing day as a Gator quarterback. They also allowed Fason and Wynn to average 4.7 yards a carry against a decent defense.
I thought the play calling for the offense was on all night. The defense was totally left guessing at what was about to be the next call. Screens worked, play action worked, draws, regular zone runs, they all seemed to work. Chris Leak was on fire and the staff seemed to take advantage of that.
Much has been made already about the play calling right before half. I personally didn't think it was that bad. I have been told that Coach Zook said he wanted to run the clock out and yet the only quote I see is where he said he didn't think about throwing a "Hail Mary" pass. The fact is, there were 3 passes called in the 6 downs in the final series of the half. All three passes had more than one route that was deep. Leak opted to throw it short, most likely because the deep receivers were covered. The Gators practice the 2 minute offense everyday at practice against the first team defense. It is nothing new to them. Sometimes things don't work like you want them, but I don't think this was a case of being conservative.
The same goes for the last offensive series of the game. The number one objective for the offense in their last series of the game was to run out the clock. Two first downs, while keeping the ball in bounds, would have completely run out the clock. The fact is, had the referees not blown just about everything associated with the end of the game, the Vols would have probably had the ball much deeper in their own territory and with only 20 seconds left on the clock. They would have been forced to make two Hail Mary passes to win the game. The offense made the right play calls.
It looks like Chad Jackson is going to be one of those guys that just makes plays for the Gators. He sure made one Saturday night. He seemed to jet from the defender guarding him on the 81 yard score and kept his focus as he hauled in a barely tipped ball. If not for Jemalle Cornelius, who keeps grading out so high every practice and game, he would most definitely see more playing time. Maybe he will get shuffled around to get his skills on the field? We will have to see.
Breaking Down the Defense…
Anyone that watched the game saw the entire spectrum the defense went through against the Vols. The first three series, they could not stop the run. The last few, they could not stop the pass. Let's talk about position play.
First of all, the much maligned defensive line started off slow and then stood their ground after a simple shift was made up front. The nose guard moved a little bit outside and kept the big behemoth offensive line from caving down so easily causing bigger gaps. That and the fact that other guys started fitting into the proper gaps allowed the defense to play better. A nice stat for the defensive line was the starters had 26 tackles in the game, more than a 1/3 of the defensive snaps. None had less than 6 tackles on the night. I thought the defensive tackles played well, especially after the alignment shift. The ends still aren't getting a ton of pressure, but it did show up in spurts. Joe Cohen provided heat on the first play and he was in on the first 2 tackles. On the long play that help set up the winning field goal, Stephen Harris was part of a three man line and he almost beat two offensive linemen to sack the quarterback.
The linebackers, although active, didn't have a great game. They were out of position on some drops in coverage and missed a few tackles I am pretty sure that Channing Crowder and Earl Everett played every defensive snap. That needs to change somewhere along the line. Brandon Siler and Todd McCullough have to provide some depth for this position. That is imperative.
The defensive backs were a mixed lot. I thought Dee Webb played aggressive and showed up ok. He had eight tackles on the night, and I didn't notice him miss any. Reynaldo Hill and Vernell Brown I thought played maybe a little too soft. They allowed too many yards after short catches. I don't think the safeties played all that well. The middle of the field seemed wide open and it just seemed that the safeties were always a step to slow getting there. Cory Bailey gave up the touchdown when he went for the ball instead of the player. He also missed on the long play that set up the winning field goal. Terrance Holmes made a couple of nice plays with his interception and the nasty hit of a receiver near the goal line. I think he had his problems in coverage too. Jarvis Herring may have been robbed on the pass interference call, I'm not sure.
I thought the adjustments made to stop the running game were going to be enough for the Gators to run away with the game. It wasn't as Tennessee decided to exploit us through the air instead. Still, I really liked the fact that we could make a simple adjustment like that and have it be so effective. How effective was the adjustment? Before it was made, the Vols averaged 5.5 yards per carry on 21 carries. After the adjustment, the running backs averaged 2.7 yards a carry on 19 carries. In that last span they had nine runs of 2 yards or less.
I think we may see a subtle change in scheme and maybe even a roster change at the safety spot. This is just speculation on my part, so we will see.
The defensive play calling will continue to take hits late in games especially losing the comeback games. The three man rushes are getting a lot of play on the message boards and maybe rightfully so, I am not sure. I don't know if this is the way I would play it, but I do know that it is the soundest defense in many a defensive coordinator's mind put in the same situation.
Another mixed bag, but we saw some good things here. First, let's get the two sore spots out. The dropped punt was a no-no for Vernell and especially at that spot on the field. It is enough to put someone else back there, but with Justin Midgett suspended, I can't see them chancing Gavin Dickey out there right now. Vernell has been steady, so we'll cut him some slack.
The other bad one was Bubba Caldwell's run out of bounds on the kickoff. He pinned his offensive mates deep on their own territory and lucky for him, they helped bail him out.
Matt Piotrowicz must have read the press clippings of Chris Hetland last week as Petro kicked every kick deep into the end zone. It was really nice to see this from Petro.
We can't forget Eric Wilbur, either. He probably outshined the Vol's All-World punter in Dustin Colquitt because he virtually matched him with an average of 45 yards per punt with a long of 52 yards.
Extra Curricular Activities…
The officiating screw up at the end of the game was just a microcosm of the entire game. As most have read on the board already, Dallas Baker was charged with a personal foul after striking an opposing player in the helmet. The replays clearly show the official looking directly at the defender striking Baker first, yet the official decided to call it only against Baker. To make matters worse, precious seconds should have been ticking off the clock for the Vols after the ball was spotted. The clock manager didn't do so. The Vols ended up receiving the ball at their own 39 yard line after a punt from 15 yards behind the original line of scrimmage. The first down for the Vols started with 43 seconds left. Had the clock not been stopped, the Gators could have run 25 more seconds off the clock. Subtract the 15 yards and the Vols start at their own 24, with 18 seconds left and no time outs. This is a scenario much less likely for the win.
Hold on to your hats Gator fans - it gets worse. Much worse, in fact, that it merits an entirely separate story which we will be running later today with exclusives. You'll be surprised and angry, no doubt.
The head of SEC officials has already admitted the clock blunder, let's see how far they take this.