A come-from-behind victory fueled by a first-year signal caller led the Florida Gators (3-1, 2-1 SEC) to a hard-fought 10-9 win over the Tennessee Volunteers (3-2, 1-2 SEC) at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Saturday afternoon.
Head coach Will Muschamp spoke with the media after the close win, and OnlyGators.com takes a look at a number of key moments in the game.
HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS
» Florida has now won 10-straight games against Tennessee, a winning streak that dates back to 2005. The Gators are 25-19 all-time against the Volunteers and now 12-11 when playing in Knoxville. UF is 23-6 against UT since 1976 and 9-2 in Knoxville since 1994.
» Overcoming a nine-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Florida pulled off its biggest come-from-behind victory in the last period since 2003. It is also the second-best road comeback for the Gators since 1966, per UF.
» Tennessee shutout Florida in the first half for the first time since 1955. It was the Vols first such shutout against any opponent since 2007.
» The Gators’ 10 points were the fewest in a win for the program since 1968 (nine, Florida State), per ESPN Stats & Information.
» It was the seventh time in the last 16 games that the Gators were held without a touchdown in the first half. UF is now 2-5 in such games after the victory, per ESPNSI.
» The Gators are now 21-4 against unranked opponents under Muschamp and 12-2 against unranked SEC teams during his tenure.
» Tennessee entered Saturday’s game ranked No. 1 nationally in third down defense (.208), while Florida was ranked No. 106 in the country in third down offense (.340). The Gators converted 35.0 percent of their third downs, the Vols just 29.4 percent.
» UF is still +8 in turnover margin on the season after finishing even (3-3) with UT.
» Redshirt senior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar has now caught a pass in 32-straight games. He is three games away from tying a school record for most consecutive contests with a reception.
» Redshirt sophomore defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. exploded on Saturday with five solo tackles, three sacks, a quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery. It is the first three-sack game for a Florida player since 2009 (Carlos Dunlap).
» The Gators’ six total sacks against the Vols were second-most in series history (seven, 1999).
“Great emotional win. On the road in this league is always difficult. Really proud of our players. Very stagnant on offense. … Felt like we had some drives that were very sporadic in the throwing game as well. Jeff [Driskel]’s first interception was a back-shoulder ball, Demarcus [Robinson] has got to get two hands on the ball, tips the ball up, they make a play there early in the game. But we felt like we were very stagnant, we needed to make a change at the quarterback position in this game and go with Treon [Harris]. He obviously brought some energy to us; made a nice ball on the throw back down the sideline over there, really proud of his composure coming into a tough place and just doing an outstanding job. I’m extremely proud of him. …
“It was a very emotional win. We’re going to go home. We’re going to watch the film. We’re going to see why we’re not, obviously, offensively doing some things that we feel like are there. It wasn’t all on Jeff on the one interception; the running back doesn’t pick up the A-gap blitzer, gets splattered and he throws the ball a little errant down the middle. He has another situation with the tipped ball at the line of scrimmage. We just weren’t getting into any flow of the game. Very proud of Treon in the job he did but also feel like we had too many drops. We had a couple missed signals, one on a critical third down where Jeff had to take a sack; we had a screen called and the receiver doesn’t run the screen. Our execution offensively, our communication needs to improve tremendously.
“Very proud of what we did defensively against what I think is a very good throwing offense. … I thought we defended and rushed four pretty good today. We’ll all be happy about that. Red zone defense was outstanding. … Our adjustments to tempo were much better by our players. Extremely proud of the tempo they played with [on offense] and how they handled that part of the game. Really proud of our football team. It wasn’t always pretty, we did the things we had to do, especially you’re down nine on the road in the fourth quarter, you make a quarterback change. Our guys didn’t blink; they responded to it.
“We were much better on third down defensively, much better on third down offensively against a very good third down defense. Again, really proud of our football team and how we were able to come out and play, do the things we had to do to win the game.”
ADDRESSING THE SECONDARY
Florida’s secondary has been abysmal over its last two games, allowing an average of 409 passing yards per contest (17.4 yards per completion) to Kentucky and Alabama. The Gators entered Saturday’s contest against the Vols ranked No. 110 nationally in passing defense but only gave up 205 yards to Tennessee and did not allow a completion longer than 27 yards.
“In the Kentucky game, we lost some confidence, coverage-wise. And the secondary – and I’ve been coaching a long time – is a very fragile position. To go back to old terms, it’s the last line of defense,” Muschamp explained Saturday afternoon.
“When you suddenly give up a play, they always talk in terms of having a short memory. Well, for a young player that’s very difficult to, from a maturity standpoint, overcome giving up a play. And then it creates a little consternation – we’re not real sure, we’re a little uncertain about what we’re doing and then the confidence issues go out. There were a lot of things that happened [against Alabama]. …
“We just simplified some things [in practice]; it wasn’t oversimplification, but we got some turns and reps had two weeks to prepare, so we’re not the 85 Bears. Let’s not jump to any conclusions here. We have a long way to go, but like I said before the season, athletically I think we’re going to be fine. We can’t make mistakes like busting a coverage and … some of the knucklehead things that we’ve certainly done in four ballgames.”
Muschamp also promised that he would be shuffling around the secondary and did just that with freshmen Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson earning the first starts of their careers.
Tabor played exceptionally well. UT avoided UF sophomore CB Vernon Hargreaves III and went right after Tabor. He made four solo tackles and had a great pass breakup. Late in the game, he also blitzed from QB Justin Worley’s blindside, sacking the signal caller and stripping the ball simultaneously. The forced fumble was recovered by the Gators.
Dawson made three solo tackles and played well in his own right, which Muschamp credits to him finally understanding that success in practice translates to the field.
“Duke Dawson continues to improve. Duke understands more about the importance of practice, and where young players build confidence, for me, is in practice. To be able to understand that if they can execute and function and communicate, they’ll be able to take it to the game. That’s something that has not always been as paramount [with him]. I feel comfortable that he’s certainly improved that part of it. He’s going to be a very good player,” Muschamp said.
CURIOUS END-OF-FIRST-HALF DECISION
For the second-straight game, the Gators had an opportunity to score at the end of the half with possession of the ball, two minutes and at least two timeouts (three at Alabama) in their pocket. And for the second-straight game, Florida not only failed to do so, it chose to not even try.
Rather than re-hash the debate from the Alabama game, check out “Timeouts and Halftime Decisions” in this post and refresh on what happened three weeks ago.
Here’s what Muschamp had to say about his decision this Saturday:
“This is the deal. In that situation, when the ball was downed in bounds, they had an injured player. … When it’s an administrative timeout, it goes to the 25-second [play clock]. If it had gone to the 40, I was going to milk it down and take a shot in the end zone. But when it went to the 25-second, it was going to go down to 10 seconds. In the box, we had a little miscommunication. … I just took the delay of game, knowing that we would have the runoff. … We were going to take a shot in the end zone if they had reset it to 40, but because of the injury and then the penalty, it went to 25. That’s just the difference. It’s based on where they set the clock after a dead ball situation. …
“I get beat up a couple of weeks ago at Alabama. That was the right decision. From a football perspective, that was the right decision, because you’re on the road, you go into the halftime down seven, you create a turnover and tie it up and then it’s 21-21. That was a pretty good decision, wasn’t it?”
An argument can be made that Muschamp’s decision at Alabama was the correct one because of the quality of opponent but not for many other reasons. Florida had a chance to score before the half and the Tide were set to get the ball back after the break. The fact that the Gators forced a turnover and tied the game is simply how it worked out and hindsight is always 20-20. If Florida had scored before the half, the same thing might have happened and UF would have led 28-21.
Anyway, back to Saturday at Tennessee. This is what actually happened.
1. The Gators take over at their own 31-yard line with 1:59 left and two timeouts.
2. Florida decides to make an effort to score, moving 15 yards on two rushes.
3. A Tennessee player goes down, forcing an injury timeout. The Gators get a 40-second clock and next snap the ball from their 46 with 1:28 (and two timeouts) left.
4. Florida converts a 3rd and 6 with a 15-yard pass down to the Tennessee 39. There is 1:11 left and two timeouts still for UF.
5. Good coverage by the Vols forces the Gators to run out of bounds at the UT 38 with 56 seconds left.
6. Incomplete pass stops the clock at 48 seconds. Completed pass for a loss starts the clock running again, and a penalty flag is thrown for personal foul blocking below the waist. It is declined with 37 seconds remaining and a 25-second clock is given to Florida. It begins running with the offense on the field.
7. Muschamp decides to run the clock as it is fourth down. Rather than call a timeout with one second remaining on the play clock (11 on the game clock) to save the yardage and attempt a 39-yard throw into the end zone (or a very long field goal), Muschamp takes the delay of game.
8. The Gators are pushed back five yards back with 10 seconds left. He brings the punting unit, but the delay of game penalty, by rule, wipes out the final 10 seconds remaining on the clock.
“F— YOU, FLORIDA”
Muschamp was worked up immediately after Saturday’s game and not just because Florida rallied in the fourth quarter to pull out a victory. Like those in attendance and many fans at home, Muschamp heard the crowd chanting “f— you, Florida” with the game clock winding down. He took exception.
For the second time in three games, the Gators benefited from the referees being human. When throwing delay of game flags, referees keep their eyes on the play clock until it reaches zero and then divert their attention to the ball to see whether it has been snapped.
Three weeks ago, Florida barely got off a snap in that split-second; it resulted in a game-tying touchdown pass in overtime. This week, the Gators barely got off a snap on what would eventually become a game-winning 49-yard field goal off the leg of redshirt sophomore kicker Austin Hardin.
“A great kick by Austin Hardin. That was outstanding,” Muschamp said. “I thought we were going to get a delay of game. But we didn’t; we got it off in time. Boy, he hit it, and I got a lot of confidence in him.”
With less than a minute left and the Gators in victory formation, the Volunteers tried to create a turnover by, well, cheating. Tennessee purposely reached out and grabbed the wrist of Florida redshirt senior center Max Garcia before he snapped the ball. Flags were thrown and UT was correctly called offside after a bit of a scrum on the field. The very next play, the two teams got into a tussle.
Tennessee’s attempt to checker Neyland Stadium – by having fans wear or purchase their own shirts depending on their designated sections – actually worked out incredibly well.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp said Cox lost his grandfather this week and did not join the team at the hotel until very late Friday night. He started on Saturday and had the best game of his young career.
» On whether Florida entered the game with a run-heavy game plan on offense: “We felt like we needed to turn the ball. We wanted to be able to run the ball and play action. Matt [Jones] had over 100 yards, and we got the run going. We hit some runs late and wore them down a little bit. We felt good about the run game coming in more than anything because of them, not necessarily because of us.”
» On why Harris was not available to speak Saturday afternoon: “We have a policy that our freshmen don’t talk.”