Florida showed its toughness throughout the night, holding an excellent Tennessee offense to 213 total yards.
Florida showed its toughness overcoming an early second quarter injury to starting defensive end Ray McDonald.
Florida showed its toughness by driving 68 yards on 16 plays and taking up half the fourth quarter in scoring a crucial field goal for a nine-point lead.
Florida showed its toughness limiting the Vols to 24 yards in the final period.
All those hours, all those grueling workouts, all those mental games paid off in the last 15 minutes in front of an electrically charged crowd in the Swamp.
Defense Creates Flashbacks
As Yogi Berra might say, it was déjà vu all over again. Saturday night's epic battle between two highly-ranked teams was eerily reminiscent of a similar showdown some 14 years ago. The 1991 Florida-FSU game saw two top five teams with great offenses instead find themselves in a physical defensive war. While the '91 game went down to the final minute, this one didn't have the drama to the final horn. But it did have two traditional rivals slugging it out in a game most thought would have twice the scoring if not more.
Tennessee had one substantial drive all night and not coincidentally it came on the possession when McDonald went down. Ray Mac was hurt on the second play of what would become a 12-play, 83-yard touchdown drive. It was such an impressive drive that Tennessee only needed one third-down conversion the whole way. The Vols had 111 yards total offense when that drive ended with a touchdown. They managed just 102 more from that point forward.
Brandon Siler played great as did corners Vernell Brown and Dee Webb. In fact everyone on the defense deserves kudos, but no one more than Joe Cohen. He came off the bench and played most of the way in place of McDonald and played a big role in limiting Tennessee's running game.
Upon Further Review
Of course there's no telling what would have been the end result without instant replay. With the score tied in the second quarter, Tennessee had third and 18 on the Gators 19. Eric Ainge hit Bret Smith for what was initially rules a completed pass and would have given the boys from Rocky Top first and goal inches from the end zone. But with SEC Commissioner Mike Slive and officials supervisor Bobby Gaston in the press box, the replay official clarified the call and correctly changed it to an incomplete pass.
On the next snap, Dee Webb blocked a field goal attempt and the Vols never crossed the Gator 30 again.
The Win Was Extra "Special"
After a conga-line of special teams errors last week, Florida's units had a fine night. Not only did Webb block a field goal, but the Gators allowed nothing to the Vols on returns. Add to that walk-on Chris Hetland nailing all three of his field goal attempts and Tremaine McCollum recovering a muffed punt and you have a most productive day. Florida also enjoyed better kickoffs from Eric Wilbur, albeit some being squibbers and set up their second field goal when Tony Joiner thwarted a pass on a fake punt try.
For units that had all involved scratching their heads seven days earlier, the Florida Special Teams came through in every phase.
Key Penalties Hard To Understand
Florida committed ten penalties including several which really hurt scoring opportunities. It started on the very first drive when a DeShawn Wynn run of 17 yards was negated when Tate Casey was called for turning up field too early. That same penalty cost Florida a key nine-yard gain in the third quarter. To be fair to Casey, the second call was nonsense because he blocked the defensive end! Thus he NEVER turned up field. The offensive line was called for false starts, not lining up properly and false snaps.
Penalties Least Of O-Line's Problems
The flags against the offensive line are a problem, but nothing compared with the inability to protect the passer. Leak has been sacked 12 times in just three games. That's completely unacceptable. Florida's front wall has been outplayed in all three games in terms of keeping people off the passer. With veterans at center (Mike Degory) and tackle (Randy Hand, Lance Butler) this is hugely surprising. Perhaps they are bothered by the position changes after spring practice. Perhaps they are having difficulty with the concept of "zone blocking" rather than man blocking. Whatever it is, it poses a challenge for line coach John Hevesy and his guys to address as quickly as possible with Alabama in two weeks and LSU two weeks after that.
Looking for Reinforcements
Now the Gators begin to look at the remainder of the season without Bubba Caldwell and likely without Ray McDonald. Those are two important performers and will not be easily replaced.
On offense, Jemalle Cornelius and Dallas Baker will be looked to for increased productivity. Baker has 13 catches so far, Cornelius six, but neither has scored. They have the ability and each made clutch catches in the decisive scoring drive to indicate they have the desire to step it up. Don't be surprised to see Mike McIntosh get a chance to expand his role this week.
Defensively, Florida has not used its bench much the first three weeks. Joe Cohen slides into the starting lineup and Derrick Harvey will get more snaps. But a tackle must emerge to give Marcus Thomas and Steven Harris some rest, and at least one other must get into the mix. This is a big issue, and it becomes a big week for a number of fledgling defensive linemen to convince Greg Mattison they can contribute.