Florida vs. Tennessee score: Gators obliterate Vols in coming out party for defense

By Adam Silverstein
September 23, 2018
Florida vs. Tennessee score: Gators obliterate Vols in coming out party for defense

Image Credit: Twitter/GatorsFB

Flashes of the old Florida Gators came out Saturday night at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, as the visitors used a suffocating defense and dynamic special teams unit to wipe the floor in a 47-21 dousing of the hosting Tennessee Volunteers. Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) led Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC) by 30 points early in the third quarter and piled it on from there in a get-right victory following a strange home loss to Kentucky two weeks ago.

While the Gators looked like the dominant team on Saturday, they still had a variety of clear holes, including the fact that the offense was unable to sustain drives despite being able to capitalize on numerous miscues from the Vols. Let’s regroup and explore some takeaways from Florida’s third win of the season.

1. Have a day, defense: Florida suffocated Tennessee’s offense early and often on Saturday. Aside from a late 43-yard run against backups, the Vols averaged just 2.1 yards per carry. They possessed the ball for nearly nine more minutes and ran 26 more plays than the Gators but were still outgained by 387-364 overall, and quarterback Jarrett Guarantano completed just 7-of-18 passes for 164 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. As if those picks were not bad enough, Florida also forced four — yes, four – fumbles on the evening. That marks six total turnovers from the Gators, five by the defense and one by special teams.

“We won by big plays. We forced six turnovers. That is unbelievable,” head coach Dan Mullen said. “That was huge to get that huge of a turnover advantage. Our six turnovers led to 24 points, and we won by 26. We had a bunch of big plays. We had explosive plays on offense. What I have to see out of us is a little bit more consistency with our performance. … We are getting better. Our consistency has to improve, though. We can’t have a big explosive play, terrible play, big explosive play, terrible play, went the wrong way, missed assignment, blown coverage, lose contain, line went the wrong way, or start a series with two penalties. The mental toughness of doing it exactly right every time is critical for us.”

UF had turnovers on UT’s first two series of the game, a safety three possessions later and three consecutive fumbles on three Tennessee possessions spanning halftime. At the 10:52 mark in the third quarter, the Vols had 10 possessions – four fumbles, two interceptions, a safety, a turnover on downs and two field goals. Most importantly for the Gators is that they scored 24 points off those turnovers including two touchdowns in the first quarter that spotted the visitors a key 14-point lead.

Returning junior linebacker David Reese II led the way with 11 total tackles (two solo, 0.5 for loss), while redshirt senior defensive lineman Adam Shuler showed out with nine tackles (two solo, one for loss) and a quarterback hurry. Redshirt junior defensive lineman Luke Ancrum and sophomore defensive back Brad Stewart nabbed the picks, while Stewart, junior DL Jachai Polite and sophomore DB C.J. Henderson all forced fumbles, the latter of which came to basically rob a touchdown late in the contest.

“C.J. Henderson played spectacular. We talk about effort and giving an inch to defend. He makes a huge play, and to me, that was the game-changing play. We gave up some red zone scores, but we made them earn every inch,” Mullen said.

2. Special teams was special again: Redshirt junior punter Tommy Townsend was once again tremendous for Florida averaging 46.0 yards per punt with a long of 58 and two over 50. When you consider that the Gators coverage team helped him down two inside the 10-yard line and one inside the 2 that led to a safety, it was truly a stellar performance from the unit. Freshman kicker Evan McPherson did his job by hitting a 25-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in the first half to give the Gators a 26-3 lead. That is not to mention a tremendous heads-up play by junior running back Lamical Perine who atoned for an early fumble by leaping over three Vols to grab a surprise onside kick from midair without another Florida player nearby.

“We knew they were going to fake a punt or try and steal a possession with an onside kick. You didn’t know when it was going to happen, but you knew it was going to happen. We talked about the discipline and consistency all week. You are starting to see the consistency for us in special teams a little bit. I like that. They were trying to make a play, but we were locked in and nobody flinched an inch. We went up and got the ball,” Mullen explained. “It was actually really well-executed by them. Lamical just went up and made a great play. It was the same with the hands team at the end of the game. They had a shot. Somebody might have missed a block, but our execution on special teams were big plays.”

3. Hey, he’s getting the job done: No, redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks is not lighting the world on fire, but it’s hard to argue with his production. In more of a game-manager role, Franks completed 9-of-18 passes for 172 yards with three touchdowns, plus he also gained significant chunk yardage on the ground and posted the first rushing score of his career. Franks totaled four touchdowns on the evening and now has 13 with two interceptions over four games this season. He had nine total touchdowns with eight picks in 11 games one year ago. Yes, that is a vast improvement no matter how you want to slice it.

Franks does still lock onto his receivers, and Florida’s offense did convert just 3-of-11 opportunities on third down, but he’s cut down his bonehead mistakes and quite obviously put a number of passes Saturday in the perfect spots for his receivers. It is unlikely that Franks is going to go out and win a game with his arm, but he is clearly capable of managing the offense and reducing disastrous outcomes the Gators were unable to avoid a year ago. And while you may not want to praise him, he at least deserves credit for that.

4. It’s a breakout: The expectation this season was that junior wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland would be making headlines for the Gators, and while Cleveland did score a tremendous 38-yard touchdown on Saturday, it is classmate Freddie Swain who is proving to be something special this year. Swain hauled in a short pass and housed it 65 yards for a key score in the game and now has receiving touchdowns in three straight contests; he has also filled in as UF’s primary returner and has another score on special teams. Seven players caught passes on Saturday but none hauled in more than two; still, it is clear that Swain is simply electric with the ball in his hands.

“When we moved [Swain inside] to be more of a slot receiver than an outside guy, he was much more comfortable there. He is making big plays and he’s building confidence in doing so. It was great to see,” Mullen said. “One of the good things about our receivers is that we had three different guys score touchdowns. We have had a bunch of different guys score on the season. It’s not like we are getting the ball just to one guy. Guys are stepping up and making plays.”

Redshirt junior running back Jordan Scarlett had his best game of the year with the ball in his hands, averaging 7.0 yards per touch (11 for 77 yards) with a touchdown. Freshman Dameon Pierce, in late as the third-string back, broke out with another long touchdown (47 yards), and sophomore WR Kadarius Toney impressed with a well-timed 34-yard reverse. The offseason talk of Florida having its best set of offensive playmakers in quite some time is coming to fruition before our very eyes, but …

5. Questions remain about the offense and defense: In addition to being 3 for 11 on third down, it remains apparent that the Gators struggle mightily putting scoring drives together. In fact, not counting explosive scores on single-play series, Florida engineered just two scoring drives of any significance: eight plays for 66 yards in the second quarter and seven plays for 75 yards and a touchdown late in the third. The Gators punted seven times and only gained a first down on two of those possessions.

On the other side of the ball, Florida again struggled to get off the field on third down. While somewhat improved against Tennessee compared to against Kentucky, the Gators allowed the Vols to convert 8-of-18 third-down opportunities (though UF shut UT down on two fourth-down tries). Despite constant pressure and nine tackles for loss, Florida actually only registered a single sack on the evening.

Odds and ends: Florida’s 26-point victory over Tennessee was its biggest since a 39-point drubbing in 2007 … the 47 points scored by UF on Saturday were its most ever in Knoxville … the Gators improved to 29-19 all-time against the Vols and broke the tie with a 13-12 mark in Knoxville … UF has won 13 of its last 14 games against UT … Mullen is the fifth straight Florida coach to win his first meeting vs. Tennessee … UF improved to 22-7 against unranked opponents since 2015 … the Gators have not started 0-2 in SEC play since 1986 … Florida has scored in 376 consecutive games, an NCAA record … the Vols have lost 10 straight SEC games dating back to 2016 … the Gators now have a +10 turnover margin on the season … Florida won an SEC game by 20+ points for the first time in nearly two years (Oct. 15, 2016) and scored more than 35 points in an SEC road game for the first time in seven years (Sept. 24, 2011)


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