By Shannon Snell – OnlyGators.com Featured Columnist
How about those Gators … or maybe we should refer to them as the “Cardiac Kids?” Whatever your preference at this point in the season, Florida is 4-0 after defeating what I thought was a really good Tennessee team.
One of the things that I believe too often gets blown out of proportion is a “streak.” As a matter of fact, I hate the word. It has so many different meanings to so many different people. Case in point: I’m a huge New York Yankees fan. I grew up in Tampa, and they held spring training at Legends Field, right down the street from the old Tampa Stadium. One of my favorite players was Joe DiMaggio. The guy was an absolute animal. Clearly, he was one of best hitters in baseball during his era, and in my opinion, the best of all time. Of course, I’m referring to DiMaggio’s record 56-game hitting streak, one that will likely never be broken. This is not the same as a winning streak spanning a decade. DiMaggio went out every day and did his job. He did his job 56 times in a row and did it well as an individual streak.
With team sports, every year it’s a new team, new players, and in this case new coaches. There is always one team trying to extend – and another seemingly with more motivation to break – the streak. It’s not fair to lump all the successes or failures on the head of any coach, especially when it’s a new or relatively new one. I hope that I’m wrong, of course, but Tennessee will beat Florida again … one day. The streak will end. The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak appeared to be the only one that would last forever. Nope. Streaks are made to be broken, so the glorification of them is ultimately meaningless.
For about three and a half quarters on Saturday, I was sure Tennessee would beat Florida. The offense looked lost, and after all these years, the Vols appeared to have the Gators’ number.
A lot of Florida’s struggles to this point involved the offensive line, but the unit did a decent job Saturday. There is room for improvement, no doubt, but it appears as if they are getting better every week under Mike Summers, who you know I support. It is difficult to fully appreciate the job that he’s done unless you’ve played or coached the offensive line. Kudos to them for really stepping up from the previous week at Kentucky, too.
Quarterback play was the biggest issue I saw early in Saturday’s game. Tennessee had a perfect game plan for Will Grier: keep him in the pocket, force him to beat you with him arm, and challenge every short/intermediate pass. The Vols did a great job of frustrating and confusing him forcing him to take sacks. It is tough to quantify what happened, but that same strategy did not work come the fourth quarter. Grier showed everyone why he was in such high demand coming out of high school. Every ball he threw late in the game was catchable and right on target, including the go-ahead touchdown toss to wide receiver Antonio Callaway on 4th and 14. As Adam wrote Sunday, Grier should be the permanent starting quarterback for the Gators. He’s earned that title.
Now, here comes No. 3 Ole Miss. Almost no one gives Florida a chance to win this game, which makes the Gators even more dangerous. Florida has nothing to lose and everything to gain. UF is supposed to be two or three years away from making a serious run at the College Football Playoff … but what if the Gators beat the Rebels? What if Florida comes in and plays their best games of the season while Ole Miss takes them lightly? Auburn has made this type of turnaround before. It is not impossible. Head coach Jim McElwain will have the Gators ready to play Saturday night; the Rebels better be ready for a dogfight.
A three-year starter for the Florida Gators who played under Steve Spurrier and Ron Zook, former guard Shannon Snell joined OnlyGators.com in 2012 as a football columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team. He is now in his fourth year sharing his musings and will do so through the 2015 season. Snell, who played in 46 games over four seasons and started 36 of those contests, was named a First Team All-American by Sporting News in 2003 and spent two seasons in the NFL.