Thanks to Kyle Trask’s calm demeanor, a stout defensive showing and Tennessee’s ineptitude, Florida continued its transformation of what used to be a heated rivalry game into a joke.
With its win today, the Gators have now won three straight, fourteen out of the last fifteen and 27 out of the last 34 matchups against the Vols. And if anything, Florida’s 34-3 dismantling of Tennessee proved that the gap between the schools is wider than ever.
Filling in for the injured Feleipe Franks, Trask turned in a workmanlike performance in his first start as a quarterback since his freshman year of high school. No, he wasn’t perfect, throwing two questionable interceptions into double coverage. But he also proved to be more than up to the task on the whole, connecting on 20 of his 28 passes and lighting Tennessee up for 293 yards and a pair of scores.
On the other side of the ball, Florida’s defense stepped up and slammed the door on pretty much every Tennessee opportunity that came about. After Trask found Kyle Pitts for a touchdown to start the game, the Vols appeared to regain some momentum by strip sacking Trask and recovering in the shadow of Florida’s red zone. But the Gators snuffed the threat out when Jauan Jennings- who was last spotted in a photo from three years ago- couldn’t catch what would have been a touchdown pass, and instead deflected it high enough into the air that Florida’s Trey Dean was able to dive and snatch it before it hit the ground. After Florida punted, Jarrett Guarantano gave it right back by throwing one right to Gator cornerback Marco Wilson; Florida cashed that mistake in for a field goal.
Despite dominating the first half- Florida had outgained Tennessee 250-88- the Gators faced a fourth and goal from Tennessee’s one with two seconds left in the half, and Dan Mullen elected to go for it. The Vols nearly made the stop on LaMical Perine, but Perine just barely managed to extend the football beyond the goal line for the touchdown. That made it 17-0 at the break, and the Gators wouldn’t let up.
Tennessee did counter with its only points of the day on a field goal from Brent Cimaglia, but then Trask landed the killshot with a 29 yard touchdown strike to Freddie Swain to make it 24-3 midway through the third. The teams then exchanged turnovers without further damage, but then Amari Burney one-upped the Vols by stripping Tennessee’s Eric Gray and then falling on the ball. A few moments later, Dameon Pierce jogged into the end zone to make it 31-3 and send the few Vols fans who had made the trip streaming for the exits. For good measure, Evan McPherson further asserted the Gators’ dominance with a 37 yard field goal to cap the day’s scoring.
Florida still has a few things to work on, to be clear. The running game is still far from satisfactory, the offensive line showed signs of improvement but still seemed to pick and choose on which plays it provides adequate blocking, and a few of Mullen’s play calls- such as electing to run a QB draw with Trask on fourth and three- definitely raised some eyebrows.
But Florida also showed that it’s able to obliterate an inferior SEC opponent at home, something they weren’t able to do last year. And as the serious portion of the Gators’ schedule approaches, it’s going to be nice to have that lopsided result in their back pocket.