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Florida 31, Tennessee 19: Gators pass muster on Rocky Top to win SEC East

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Yet another 30-point day. Yet another 400-yard, four-touchdown performance. Yet more reason to worry.

NCAA Football: Florida at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of it all — Florida’s 11th consecutive outing scoring 30 points, Kyle Trask’s third game of 400+ passing yards and four touchdowns in 2020, the Gators’ 15th win over Tennessee in 16 tries — the Heisman favorite punted.

And even that worked out for Florida, as a pooch punt by Trask rolled to the Tennessee 4.

But Florida’s 31-19 win over the Volunteers, which secured the SEC East title for them for the third time in six years — and an almost certain date with Alabama in Atlanta — will likely do more to inspire worry that a dream season for the Gators will come up one win short of the College Football Playoff than hope that this team can win it all.

Trask was predictably excellent against Tennessee’s overmatched defense, throwing for 433 yards and four touchdowns and distributing them to Trevon Grimes (two), Jacob Copeland (one), and Kadarius Toney (one). He also got significant assistance from Toney (eight catches for 108 yards) and Kyle Pitts (seven catches for 128 yards), and led two touchdown drives on either side of halftime that turned a tight 10-7 game into a 24-7 affair that had the Vols affirmatively playing catchup.

But he had to produce most of Florida’s offense through the air because of futility on the ground. Florida had just 19 rushing yards on its 17 recorded carries, with Copeland earning 17 of those on a reverse and Toney getting seven on a sweep. Dameon Pierce toted the ball five times for five yards — and he was the best of Florida’s backs on the day, as Nay’Quan Wright’s four carries went for two yards and Malik Davis’s two garnered zero; Trask sacks and a kneeldown cost Florida 12 yards.

And Florida needed its offense to score because its defense still managed to give up yardage and points despite a mostly strong showing. Tennessee drove 96 yards for its first touchdown in the first half, then strung together the game’s final two scores in the last six minutes — on marches of 94 and 96 yards.

Despite limiting Tennessee to just four third-down conversions on 15 tries, Florida allowed 24 first downs and 334 yards of total offense. And on fourth down, the only time the Gators stopped the Vols was when a pass on a fake punt sailed through an open receiver’s hands.

It wasn’t all bad for the defense, which only allowed Tennessee to cross midfield just twice in its first 10 drives. It was all bad for the running game, which didn’t get going at any point. And it won’t hurt Trask’s Heisman candidacy one bit, as his numbers and his play certainly impressed.

But Florida is now the SEC East champion, with only a Senior Day home meeting with LSU between it and a de facto College Football Playoff play-in game. The opportunities to sharpen their teeth by tearing into meaty foes are almost all behind these Gators.

And anyone who wonders if Alabama will make mincemeat of this team is doing so legitimately.