There’s a lot to unpack here, but here were my initial reactions to one of the greatest endings in Gator football history, and the 59:51 of game clock that preceded it…
Synopsis: Florida used a miraculous Hail Mary from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland to deal Tennessee its 12th loss in the last 13 games in this series.
It was over when: Cleveland broke free behind the Tennessee defense- which somehow wasn’t in prevent mode- to haul in the game winner.
Turning point: …the final play of the game. The Gators seemed to have broken away from the Vols on multiple occasions, only to watch them fight back each time. Using the final play for each line here may sound repetitive, but that’s what happens when it’s a 63 yard game winning Hail Mary.
Main takeaway: Florida could be very good this year, but they have a ways to go before being labeled anything better than that. Going seven quarters without an offensive touchdown to start the season is more likely than not the most dubious school record Florida has claimed in the last few decades, but their defense knows how to stand up tall when it needs to most. And Feleipe Franks showed plenty of promise.
Game ball goes to: Franks and Cleveland will have to flip a coin for this one. Marco Wilson had a solid game in the secondary, and Jachai Polite was flying all over the field, neither of which should go unnoticed, but c’mon. There’s no rational argument to give it to anybody other than Franks or Cleveland.
Stat of the game: 25-7. That’s Florida’s record against Tennessee since the Korean War. Most Gator fans like to brag about 12 out of the last 13, but the Gators dominated this series well before the eleven game winning streak began in 2005.
What to like: Florida’s defense bends, but it doesn’t break. They did get gashed on a long TD run by John Kelly and a well thrown ball from Quinten Dormady to Ethan Wolfe, but other than that held firm for much of the day. Florida very easily could have lost this game on the Vols’ final possession, but the defense stiffened and forced a field goal- as they did several other times on the afternoon.
What to work on: Florida’s offense is still very much a work in progress, even with Franks permanently installed as the starter and the emergence of freshman Kedarius Toney. The offensive line was certainly better against Tennessee, but they were also facing a weaker defense, so the jury is still out on them. And offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier appears to be teetering on the brink of having you-know-what happen to him. Another bad offensive showing against Kentucky, and he may at the very least have his play-calling duties stripped away.
The outlook: Florida beat Tennessee, but there’s plenty of work remaining to be done. We still don’t know what this team is capable of, and we probably won’t for another few weeks. Make no mistake, beating Tennessee is always fantastic. It’s just that I’d like to be able to replicate the end result- putting a W beside our opponent’s name- and I’m not really sure that more performances like the one we saw yesterday will do that.