Through the first two weeks of the SEC season, Florida has struggled in the first half and come out of the tunnel with a different attitude in the second half. Saturday was no different. The Gators were coming off of an emotional road win in College Station a week earlier, and many wondered if Jeff Driskel and the Florida offense would be able to improve on a workman-like performance at Texas A&M.
For the first time since 2004, Florida and Tennessee were both ranked heading into the game. Tennessee fans no doubt thought this would be the year they would end the streak. They’ll have to wait another year before they get another shot, as Florida toppled Rocky Top to the tune of 37-20 (8 wins in a row, but who’s counting?). No Florida team has scored 37 or more points in Knoxville since 1984.
Jeff Driskel and the Florida offense are still trying to form an identity as an offensive unit. Gillislee has run the ball well in the early going, but the Gators looked to balance out their offensive attack through the air on Saturday.
Florida’s offense took over with good field position after a Lerentee McCray interception in the first quarter and were able to put seven points on the board early. Trey Burton took a wildcat snap around the left side and waltzed, untouched into the endzone for the first score of the game.
Florida was able to move the ball between the 20’s, but, first possession aside, was unable to convert in the redzone. After driving the ball all the way down the field and having to settle for a Caleb Sturgis chip shot just before the half, it was questionable if Florida would be able to keep up with Tyler Bray on the other side.
Tyler Bray was able to keep the chains moving for Tennessee in the first half. Florida’s pass rush was unable to phase the touted Junior and he found ballyhooed wideouts Justin Hunter and Cordarelle Patterson time and time again. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. It seemed that on almost every completion there was a contesting defensive back just out of reach.
The Gators recorded only one sack the entire game, but in the first half it seemed there was a bubble around the opposing quarter back, and without pressure, Bray was able to get the ball to just the right spots for only his receivers to make the play.
In the second year under Will Muschamp, Florida is becoming a second half team. When the Gators emerged from the locker room in the second half they were a different team. Driskel led Florida deep into Tennessee territory, but once again the Gators had to settle for a field goal. Tennessee would answer with a drive of their own, resulting in a short touchdown run for a Tennessee linebacker out of the wildcat, but they missed the extra point and that would be the end of Tennessee’s offensive proficiency.
The Florida defense clamped down and started to pressure Bray. Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was able to scheme blitzes which allowed the Gator’s front seven to harass the junior quarterback. The constant pressure eventually led to a Matt Elam interception in the fourth quarter. Bray hadn’t thrown a pick all year, but threw two on Saturday.
After the Elam interception, Florida needed to capitalize. Trey Burton proved to be the necessary spark. Burton took a wildcat snap off the right tackle, he beat one man, turned on the jets and 80 yards later he found pay dirt. Burton had also scored Florida’s lone first half touchdown.
Florida gutted Tennessee on the ground, outrushing the Vols 336-83. The success on the ground opened up the field for Driskel. Tennessee sent a blitz at Driskel, and the play action kept the blitzers at bay just long enough for him to set his feet and deliver a strike to the corner of the Tennessee checkerboard to tight end Jordan Reed.
The sophomore quarterback is growing up fast. Driskel was able to stand tough in the face of the blitz and deliver time and time again. The Vols defense thought they had Driskel for a sack, but he managed to free himself and before you knew it, he found the edge and ran for a first down. Driskel ended up with 81 yards on the ground, but it was his ability to keep his eyes down field that was most impressive.
The Vols sent a corner blitz at Driskel in the fourth quarter, but a calm quarter back threw to a wide open Frankie Hammond who flipped on the afterburners and the Gators yet again found the endzone.
This 2012 Florida Gators team has gotten sharper as games have progressed. Muschamp has made winning the second half, and especially winning the fourth quarter, a priority, and this Florida unit is responding.
The Gators are outscoring opponents 50-13 in the second half through their first three games. Florida has outscored its first two SEC opponents 37-6 in the second half and 17-0 in the fourth quarter. Florida has worn down its three opponents on defense, and the offense has continued to improve—seemingly with every snap.
Every week is a challenge in the SEC, and the coming week is no different. Florida will have to temper the excitement of beating a top 25 team for the first time under Muschamp and regroup to tackle a struggling Kentucky team in the Swamp. The Gators should dispatch the Wildcats for the 26th straight year, but if they let themselves fall in, the trap game might just bite them.
The coaching staff should have them ready to go, and this team should continue to get better this week. Expect to see Driskel air the ball out, and the offense find a rhythm from the outset on Saturday.
Monday’s Man of the Hour >> All Everything Player Trey Burton