Florida defeated Tennessee, 37-20, on Saturday. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, our first look before a second viewing, comes first.
I wrote about a lot of things that I thought were at stake for the Gators on Saturday in the beginning of our Game Thread:
Here's what awaits a Florida team that wins on Rocky Top at Tennessee today: A 3-0 record, a 2-0 SEC record, a resume that includes two road conferences wins and two road SEC wins (neither of which any other team nationally will be able to match), and a relatively simple path to 4-0. For the Gators, this is the launching pad from good to potentially great, from merely improving in Will Muschamp's second season as their coach to becoming a dominant outfit.
The Gators promptly spent the first half scrapping and the second half storming back, taking all of those things for their own on Rocky Top. It was fun.
How Florida Won
Florida took the lead for the first time in the second half when Jeff Driskel hit Jordan Reed with a dime in the last minute of the third quarter to put the Gators up 27-20. Florida put the game away when Frankie Hammond Jr. took a third down pass from Driskel to the house early in the fourth quarter.
Jeff Driskel is what we wanted him to be 18 months ago, is the definitive winner of the 2012 Florida quarterback competiton, and is very possibly a worthy heir to Tim Tebow's mantle. Blasphemous as that last bit may be, selling Driskel short after the best full game a Florida quarterback has played since Tebow aerated Cincinnati in the 2010 Sugar Bowl would seem like a disservice. He completed 14 of 20 throws for 219 yards, and though Hammond made the longest reception of the night happen with moves in the open field, Driskel made two throws that rank with the best I have seen a Florida quarterback since Rex Grossman make: he escaped pressure, rolled out, and fired a strike to Solomon Patton in the second quarter that moved the chains, and, under duress, he stood tall and dropped the pass to Reed for his touchdown into a box where Reed could make a (difficult) catch or the pass could fall incomplete. There's no issue with Driskel's arm strength, or accuracy, or composure, and the indecisiveness that plagued him in College Station wasn't evident on this night, as he bedeviled rushers and ran the ball eight times for 81 yards. If Driskel can sustain this level of performance as the stakes get higher and the defenses get more fearsome, he's going to enter the pantheon of great Florida quarterbacks; if he keeps improving, as I think he will, Driskel might eventually be a Heisman Trophy candidate. Really.
Mike Gillislee didn't come out with the first team for Florida's first offensive series, with Matt Jones getting the start as Florida tried to keep itself from making a huge error just a few feet in front of its own goal line. From that series on, Gilly was free again, but he didn't really get loose until the second half, when he ripped off a 45-yard run and a 33-yard run, both the sort of find-a-hole-and-run-to-daylight scampers that he specializes in. Gillislee's gotten better as the game has progressed for two weeks now, and played through a groin injury with no apparent dropoff on Saturday. Could it be that Florida has its best traditional backfield (this is the Percy Harvin/Chris Rainey/Jeff Demps exception) since 2004, when Chris Leak and Ciatrick Fason teamed?
Florida's second half dominance continued unabated against Tennessee: The Gators won the half 27-6, won the third quarter 17-6, won the fourth quarter 10-0, and have run up a 50-13 margin in the second half and a 27-0 margin in the fourth quarter in 2012. Some of that is attributable to adjustments made by Will Muschamp (whose guys have clamped down on the penalties after halftime, and come from behind for three wins, two on the road), Dan Quinn (whose defenses have taken away what teams want to do in three straight games), and Brent Pease (whose probing in the first half has led to slashing in the second), and some of it is attributable to Jeff Dillman forging a team that wants to play for 60 minutes in his image, and some of it is attributable to older players having the maturity and endurance to play to the final whistle. All of it is a welcome change from 2010 and 2011 outfits that rarely ever had leads to protect in the fourth quarter in the first place.
I rag on Trey Burton a lot. His confidence often veers too far toward unwarranted cockiness for my taste, he's got a sense of self that has struck me as obnoxious repeatedly, and his fairly obvious interest in being this class' Tebow as a spiritual-minded star does not jibe with how he comports himself, by my eye and by others' accounts that I trust. But Trey Burton's greatest sin, until tonight, was being a mediocre football player; tonight, he put that criticism to bed for good, making big plays in a big game and scoring his 17th and 18th career touchdowns. Sure, a third of those scores came in one walkover against Kentucky, but there are a lot of good players who have donned Gators colors and come nowhere near 18 TDs. Burton is effective when he's used sparingly and smartly, and when his versatility will make a defense guess wrong; three times, he burned Tennessee because of that. Something tells me Pease will find plays for Burton to make as the year progresses.
Hammond's catch-and-run was his only catch of the night, but it was richer than milk straight from the cow: He was in the right place for Driskel to find him on a hot route against a blitz, made a really good catch on a ball that came in lower than the ideal, and then made one man miss and ran the best angle to paydirt. That's twice that Hammond has done this, and that basically makes him Florida's big-play threat in the passing game, even if he's doing it in the hardest way possible.
The offensive line had issues (Xavier Nixon will be addressed later; Kyle Koehne had a brutal false start at the wrong moment; it still can't get a third-and-short push up the middle for anything), but a solid block from Jon Halapio allowed Burton to waltz into the end zone for his first touchdown, great blocking gave Driskel time to hit Burton on a slow-developing wheel route, and some excavation by the line and Hunter Joyer opened the crease that Burton squeezed through on his 80-yard jaunt. I won't trust this line against premier pass-rushers until I see it hold up against them, and I think Driskel's mobility bailed it out of at least two sacks tonight, but its rock bottom is now better than "a stack of sugar cubes would be better" and its baseline might be above average.
Caleb Sturgis made two chip shots and banged home a 49-yarder as an exclamation point. He's 7-for-8 on the year and has made a field goal from 49 yards or deeper in each game. Having him is nice.
Tennesse recorded one play of positive yardage in the fourth quarter, and it was Tyler Bray finding Mychal Rivera for eight yards ... on third and 10. The Vols lost three yards on a later carry, leaving them with just five yards of total offense in the quarter, but an additional false start penalty meant that Tennessee netted exactly zero yards against the Gators in the fourth quarter last night. That is neat.
Florida didn't commit a turnover for the second straight week. This is the first time the Gators have gone two weeks without giving the ball away since 2009.
Both Good and Bad
The return of Marcus Roberson, Tactile Lover was fun: He got flagged for a pass interference penalty that could not have been more obvious ... from the reverse angle. Jaylen Watkins and Josh Evans bit on a play-fake on Tennessee's second touchdown pass; Matt Elam was slow all night; Loucheiz Purifoy wasn't quite fast enough to really challenge Cordarrelle Patterson on the Vols' first TD; Roberson failed to pull down a pick that turned into a first down for Tennessee, then got Mossed by Justin Hunter on a jump ball for a 42-yard gain. (It wasn't a good night for him, is what I am saying.) But the secondary, as the Gators defense is wont to do, went from porous to solid in the second half, snagged two picks and should probably have had one or two more, and left Bray chucking to no avail for the final 15 minutes, when he went 1-for-10 for eight yards. Still waiting on a full game from this crew, but at least they didn't seem to miss Cody Riggs that much and are sound tacklers, especially at safety.
Florida's wide receivers do things that are good and unspectacular. And that is boring and valuable. Hammond had one big catch. Quinton Dunbar had three catches, but somehow pushed piles for about six extra yards on two of them despite weighing about 190 pounds, and delivered the last block on Hammond's TD. Latroy Pittman engaged a defender 30 yards downfield on Gillislee's 45-yard run. Patton had his 17-yard catch on Driskel's scramble and should really be a section above this in the sense that Pease knows exactly how to use him. Burton's getting burn as a pass-catcher because he's good at it. Andre Debose has been the invisible man on offense for a quarter of Florida's season now ... and the Gators are more than surviving. I don't know if they would be better with him, or more prone to near-fatal errors like his bobble of the exchange on the reverse Florida tried to run on its first play. I'm not sure we need to find out.
Florida's defensive line is getting good at putting pressure on the quarterback without actually sacking him, which is satisfying in the sense that eating half of a steak is satisfying. Lerentee McCray was a mayhem-maker for much of the night, but his biggest play was a pick; Sharrif Floyd is still without a sack. Florida's only sack on the night was a "sack," one credited to Elam on an intentional grounding. I won't complain too much if the lack of sacks leads to wins, but I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to see more of them.
The penalties in the first three quarters were ugly: By the end of the second offensive drive of the third quarter, when Florida failed on a fake punt and turned the ball over on downs, the Gators had been penalized eight times for 78 yards. For the rest of the game, Florida was not penalized — and, in a stunning development, started kicking ass, rolling up 302 yards on the next six drives. AVOID PENALTIES, Y'ALL.
The worst offender? Xavier Nixon, he of the umpteen false starts in 2011, who got flagged for removing his helmet after a play (!?!?!?!?) and illegal use of hands, which was later declined. Beyond both being dumb penalties, the former flag turned a third and nine into a third and 24. Nixon shouldn't be able to do things like this and remain in games and in the starting lineup, but he's still Florida's best left tackle and ... sigh. At least he's generally been good as a blocker this year.
Assuming the reverse from the Florida 5 was Brent Pease's idea: You can be cute, sir, when you are further from the goal line than that, because you are in derp management as much as you are in the business of designing offenses. Assuming the fake punt that ended with Matt Elam being tackled short of the sticks was Will Muschamp's call: Burn that page of the playbook, cut off that part of the card, Eternal Sunshine that idea from your very brain. If you want to do something tricky, don't do it in the shadows of the goalposts. If you're going to go for it, put the ball in your best players' hands.
What is this, really? We need final score tweets to be sponsored now?
Okay, Bray throwing a perfect spiral to Derek Dooley, who spiked the ball disgustedly, was actually embarrassing for the other team:
That's what I saw. What'd you see? I'll be in the comments.