Florida Gators (4-0) football won an inspired game over the Tennessee Volunteers (2-2) on Saturday, picking up a come-from-behind 28-27 victory on the back of redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier, who led the team to the Promised Land in the fourth quarter.
The Gators have now won 11 consecutive games over the Volunteers dating back to 2005, the last two contests by a single point.
OnlyGators.com is here to break down the game, so here are six takeaways.
Oh my: Redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier was shaky through the first three quarters but matured when it mattered the most, throwing two touchdown passes in the final 4:09 of Saturday’s game and converting three fourth down passes along the way. The first was to conclude a 17-play, 86-yard drive with Grier’s touchdown toss going to sophomore wide receiver Brandon Powell. The second came with less than 1:30 remaining as Grier hit freshman WR Antonio Callaway, who turned around and raced 63 yards for the game-winning score.
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Grier finished 23 of 42 for 283 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, with the turnover coming on a heave near the end of the second quarter. Though Grier still has a ways to go, he proved that he is capable of coming through in the clutch and can be counted on when the going gets tough. Grier was also 5-for-5 on fourth down conversions in the contest.
It’s Tricky: Vols coach Butch Jones reached into his bag of tricks on Saturday – and it paid off. Tennessee coupled a double pass from its own 42-yard line in the first quarter with QB Josh Dobbs taking the reception 58 yards for a touchdown to tie the game. Later in the opening half, UT converted a 4th and 2 with a Tim Tebow-esque jump pass and used an eight-play, 84-yard drive to take a 14-7 lead. Dobbs was simply too much for UF to handle at times. The Gators’ awful tackling allowed him to take off on a 62-yard run later in the second quarter; the Vols wound up kicking a field goal and taking a 10-point halftime lead.
Have a day, kid: While the rest of Florida’s offense was below-average at best for most of the contest, junior running back Kelvin Taylor was the sole rusher for the Gators and performed to the best of his ability in the contest. Taylor broke off a 47-yard run early in the first quarter and scored a pair of touchdowns on the day, finishing with 102 yards on 19 totes.
Despite Taylor’s success, Tennessee easily outrushed Florida in the contest. The Vols’ had Dobbs (136 yards), RB Jalen Hurd (102, two touchdowns) and RB Alvin Kamara all find success on the day, nearly tripling UF’s rushing effort.
Receiving some praise: Grier peppered the ball around late in Saturday’s contest, and his receivers – though two of them had crucial drops in the game – rewarded him for the most part. Callaway made a number of clutch first-down conversions, picking up 112 yards and a score on five receptions. Powell also hauled in five balls (one fourth down conversion, one touchdown) and picked up 65 yards. Redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee showed up, too, moving for 57 yards on five receptions and making a couple clutch gains of his own. Even junior WR Demarcus Robinson got in on the fun with six catches for 48 yards.
All in all, it was good to see Florida’s playmakers … make plays.
Failures on defense: Florida’s defense was atrocious through most of the game. Though the Gators hit hard at times and were able to stop the run in key situations, they were unable to contain Dobbs in the first quarter, saw the secondary fail on some rare but crucial throwing plays and could not seem to tackle the Vols. Florida’s missed tackles were too numerous to count; they cost UF points and field position throughout the contest. Additionally, on Tennessee’s final scoring drive, the hosts allowed four third-down conversions.
The lone bright spot on the Gators’ defense was a forced and recovered fumble by redshirt junior defensive end Bryan Cox Jr., which led to a touchdown that put Florida in contention late in the contest.
Questionable coaching: While the majority of what went wrong for the Gators through most of the day dealt with execution, the coaches had their say in Florida’s failures. Head coach Jim McElwain failed to stop the game with a timeout for a crucial turnover early in the game. After a series of timeouts, he and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmier also called a questionable play on a 3rd and 3 that was an easy and necessary conversion for UF. The Gators were quite formulaic in their offensive play calling through the first three quarters, often following incomplete passes on first down with runs; the Vols picked up on this and snuffed them out over the latter half of the contest.
While the defense was able to contain Dobbs better in the second half, defensive coordinator Geoff Collins and co-coordinator Randy Shannon had no answers for Florida in the opening 30 minutes. A UF team that McElwain said was prepared for UT trickeration bit on it a couple times in the contest.
Pitt-iful: Senior wide receiver Latroy Pittman Jr., who committed a horrible penalty for the Gators in their last contest, was once again a liability for Florida on special teams. Pittman committed a block in the back penalty that negated a 63-yard punt return by Callaway and whiffed on blocks on two other occasions.