Florida didn’t play especially well, but did more than enough to beat Tennessee and wrap up the SEC East for the first time since 2016. What were the major takeaways from the game?
Florida simply does not have a running game
Tennessee came into the game with a five game losing streak. In each of those five losses, the Vols surrendered 165 rushing yards or more. I totally get that when you have a Heisman Trophy candidate at QB in Kyle Trask and a mismatch at tight end like Kyle Pitts that throwing the ball is going to be the preferred method to move the ball, but that’s no excuse to finish a football game with a paltry 19 rushing yards. Florida never could establish a ground attack against the Vols, running the ball seventeen times and barely managing to average a single yard per attempt. That’s not insurmountable against Tennessee, but it will be against Alabama.
The defense is quietly getting better, but still has holes
Yes, it’s very irritating that Tennessee racked up a pair of touchdowns in the final minutes of the game against a prevent defense, but those points had no bearing on the end result of the game. What was more concerning- against an offense decimated by COVID-19 and starting a true freshman quarterback- was getting gutted for an eleven play, 96 yard touchdown drive early in the second quarter. There’s no “the game is over/we’re getting our backups some reps/we’re just playing prevent here” type of excuse for that, and it does not bode well against Alabama. Other than that? The defense was actually solid on the day, forcing punts (or in one case, a failed fake) on the other eight of the Vols’ first nine drives of the game before the garbage time touchdowns. That’s something we haven’t seen yet this year, and it’s nice. But the tackling remains a problem, some of the angles being taken to the ball carriers are still bad, and to be blunt, I’m not convinced that Florida is playing the best players it has at all eleven spots on the defense. As was the case with the running game, this was fine for today; it won’t be in Atlanta.
Kyle Trask is officially the Heisman favorite
How about something positive now? OK: Trask fried Tennessee for 433 passing yards, which is the tenth highest passing total for a single game in Gator football history. Mixed in there were four more touchdowns through the air, which draws him within one of Danny Wuerffel’s single season school record of 39 in 1996. He’ll have a chance to break that next week against LSU, and try to really build a lead on Mac Jones in the Heisman Trophy race before the two square off in Atlanta for the SEC Title. Though it feels like the winner of that game will win the Heisman, with another big game next week, maybe Trask can put enough distance between himself and Jones that it won’t even matter.
Jacob Finn might be the most underrated punter in the country
Not the best, mind you, but man, is he deadly accurate. And it’s about time he gets some credit for it. He pinned the Vols at the four yard line with one punt, and boomed another for 50 yards to flip the field. If Florida’s offense continues to flounder the way it did for parts of the game moving forward, he just may be called upon more down the stretch. And if he keeps booming punts when he needs to boom them and placing them high and short when he needs to do that, Florida might, just might, be able to play field position with teams… if their defense can play the game of its life. But Finn and the special teams are doing their part.
The verdict: Florida’s two wins away from the CFP
At this point, the “blow everybody away but lose close to Alabama and you might jump teams ahead of you and sneak into the Playoff at #4” path to the promised land is gone. Florida has wholly underwhelmed against bottom feeders Vanderbilt, Kentucky and now Tennessee, so that route has been blocked off. Which, OK, not the end of the world: defeating LSU, however close or lopsided it may be, and then Alabama in Atlanta will put Florida in the Playoff. It’s just that now, that’s the Gators’ only possible road to the Playoff. I cannot objectively say that what I’ve seen from this Gator team in the past three weeks is particularly conducive to beating Alabama. But I will assume that Florida holds serve against LSU at home, which will set up a one game season for the Gators in Atlanta. And in a one game season, with everything on the line, crazier things have happened.