Florida Football 3-2-1: Special teams made special plays

Nov 30, 2020 | 0 comments


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After a pair of ho-hum victories over Vanderbilt and Kentucky, No. 6 Florida will play for a championship this week. With a win at Tennessee (2-5) on Saturday, the Gators (7-1) will clinch the SEC East title and their conference-best 13th berth in the SEC Championship Game.

Here are three observations, two questions, and one prediction as UF enters Tennessee week.


Three Observations

1) The offense didn’t play as poorly as you might think. While they finished with their third-fewest number of total yards and the fewest number of points in a game this season, they also ran their third-fewest number of plays thanks to the defense not getting off the field in the first half. Their 7.3 yards-per-play average was their third-highest this season. They only punted twice. Their lack of rhythm seemed to be directly connected to the defense only giving them four possessions in the first half. It’s hard to figure out how the opposing defense is trying to attack you, make adjustments and settle into the game when you only run 10 plays in a quarter, as was the case for UF in the first quarter. As the defense improved, the offense became more efficient. Look for the Gators to return to the 500-yard, 40-point range against the Volunteers.

2) The offensive line, however, played perhaps its worst game of the season. If you take out the fourth quarter when the backups were in for both sides, the Gators averaged just 2.4 yards per rush and gave up a sack. Kyle Trask was also under pressure several more times, which caused some errant throws. In particular, right guard Stewart Reese and right tackle Jean Delance played noticeably poorly. After a promising start to the season, Delance has regressed over the past few weeks. Reese, however, had been one of their most reliable linemen until this game. After missing the Vanderbilt game with an apparent shoulder injury, you have to wonder if his health factored into his performance.

3) The special teams finally made a large impact on the game. A couple of weeks ago, Dan Mullen said that they needed to get better on special teams in every area except the two players who kick the ball. He got his wish against Kentucky. A perfectly executed fake punt set up the first touchdown of the game, and the fake-out by Xzavier Henderson on the punt return touchdown by Kadarius Toney just before halftime turned the tide of the game. And yes, the guys kicking the ball remained solid as well, with Jacob Finn’s 49-yard punt that went out of bounds at the 1-yard line setting up Toney’s touchdown and Evan McPherson making two field goals. The only blemish for the special teams was McPherson’s missed 45-yard attempt in the fourth quarter.

Two Questions

1) How will the Gators handle the weather conditions that await in Knoxville? According to The Weather Channel, the high temperature will be in the mid-40s with rain and possible snow in the morning and early afternoon. Obviously, the Gators are not used to playing in the cold, and that’s not something they can simulate in practice throughout the week. Some quarterbacks, including former NFL and Tennessee great Peyton Manning, simply do not throw the ball well in near-freezing temperatures. Is Trask one of those quarterbacks?

2) Can UF escape this malaise that it's stuck in? While they’ve won the last two games by three scores, they just haven’t seemed very energized or focused at times. While they only need to win every game by one point to reach the College Football Playoff, it would be nice for the Gators to enter the SEC Championship Game playing their best football of the season. Fortunately, Mullen has had his way with Tennessee in his first two cracks at them, winning by a combined 57 points.

One Prediction

Most of the Heisman Trophy pundits will have Alabama quarterback Mac Jones replacing Trask atop their leaderboards this week. Jones threw for more than 300 yards and five touchdowns against Auburn on Saturday, and the recency bias is very real when it comes to the Heisman. Fortunately for Trask, there is still plenty of time for him to retake the lead. If he throws for 350 yards and four touchdowns against Tennessee and Jones throws an interception against LSU, Trask will be right back on top the following week. This will be a very fluid race that may come down to which quarterback leads his team to the conference championship.

 

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