How Florida Won
Florida didn't break, then got a break
We've all heard of bend-but-don't-break defense, but I'm not sure I've ever seen it better exemplified than by Florida's defense on this day. Jeff Driskel's three interceptions put Tennessee on its own 47, Florida's 13 (after a penalty), and Florida's 17.
The Vols got six points from those three possessions.
After Tennessee went up 9-0, Florida went three-and-out on the next drive, Driskel's last of the day. Then Florida freshman Jalen Tabor, a revelation on this day, forced a fumble and got the Gators the ball in Tennessee territory.
The Gators got seven points from that possession.
Florida would later add the game-winning field goal on a fantastic kick from Austin Hardin, but play in what coaches call "sudden change" situations, the plays right after turnovers or big special teams plays, was what allowed the Gators to win a game that they looked to be losing for most of the day.
Three Good Things
Florida's defense was ferocious again
Tennessee averaged 3.48 yards per play. Justin Worley averaged 4.6 yards per attempt. The Tennessee running game, factoring in six sacks, produced a hideous 1.0 yards per carry — and that requires rounding up, because the Vols had 28 yards on 29 rushes.
Florida gave up just five third down conversions on 17 attempts, doing better against Tennessee's theoretically competent offense than the No. 1-ranked and ballyhooed Tennessee third down defense did against a Florida offense (7-for-20) that played three quarters of this game with Driskel grooving passes to his receivers at 110 with nary a change-up in sight. Florida forced two turnovers, too, and, as noted, sacked Worley six times. About the only frustration I have with the defense today relates to its inability to get Tennessee off the field on the Vols' final drive, and, well, that drive ended with an excellent Keanu Neal pick.
Florida hasn't fixed everything on defense by any means, but the insertion of Tabor, phenomenal despite Tennessee throwing at Vernon Hargreaves III about once — and getting a red zone pick for the audacity — and the use of Duke Dawson in Jabari Gorman's stead seemed to clean up the massive failures in the backfield that marked the Gators' struggles against Kentucky and Alabama.
And if the Gators can be stingy and force turnovers, and get better, as a young defense certainly might? The same unit that was historically bad against Alabama might actually be good going forward.
Treon Harris: G.U.M.P.
There's a saying in South Florida high school football that you see if you follow enough recruits: G.U.M.P. It stands for Great Under Major Pressure, and it's about how good players have to be, even in high school, to succeed in a game that is brutally, brutally competitive.
Treon Harris was inserted as Florida's quarterback one play before the fourth quarter with a nine-point deficit on the road against a team that desperately, desperately wanted to beat the Gators.
And Florida won.
Harris wasn't great, to be clear, just good, but good was such a substantial improvement on Driskel that it felt like a godsend. He was quick and decisive as a runner in his limited action, and mostly accurate as a passer. And he handed the ball off to Matt Jones a lot, and well. That's all he really needed to do.
He earned a shot to be Florida's starter, I think, and I certainly am not alone in wanting him to be Florida's starter.
Austin Hardin made a kick
I'm as shocked as you are.
Three Bad Things
Jeff Driskel finds a new low
Remember last week, when we thought 9-for-28 for 93 yards and two picks (with a touchdown) was as bad as Jeff Driskel could get?
Driskel was 11-for-23 for 59 yards and three picks against Tennessee today.
If we're being honest, two of the picks weren't his fault: One was batted up to a Tennessee defender by Demarcus Robinson, who appeared brain-dead for much of the first half, and another glanced off both of Tevin Westbrook's hands. And Driskel's first half, including the pick, was mostly sabotaged by receivers dropping passes as often as possible, while some of his struggles in the second half had to do with protection breakdowns.
This was mostly Driskel being mired in hard-luck mediocrity ... until it was Driskel being bad, and, quite simply, failing.
After all, if we're being honest, the other pick was a horrible read and a bad throw. And if we're being honest, Driskel throwing fastballs all day absolutely contributed to Florida's issues with drops, and to a couple of missed big plays, too.
And if we're being really honest, the number of people who want Driskel to be Florida's quarterback going forward has to be in the dozens, if that.
For the first time since 2011, I'm not one of them.
Florida's offense plods and plods
Florida's longest play on this day was a 32-yard run by Matt Jones in the fourth quarter. It was Florida's only play of more than 20 yards on the day.
The Gators' longest pass play was a 15-yard catch by Robinson that was lucky to even be completed.
After looking explosive against a bad Eastern Michigan team, and competent against Kentucky, Florida's put up fewer yards in its last two games combined than it did in either of its first two. That's not good.
Marcus Maye got burnt today
If you had to pick out one poor performance from Florida's defense, it would unequivocally be Maye's. He was slow and confused on passing routes, and a liability that Tennessee exploited whenever possible.
This is an issue, because even if Brian Poole succeeds in his transition back from outside corner to nickel corner, where he seemed to work more often on Saturday, Florida doesn't have a dime back better than Maye, it would seem. And given Florida's run defense and its ability to set up third downs, the Gators will be seeing many, many four-receiver sets in the future.
Great coverage by five DBs won't matter much if the sixth one busts.