Coming off of a nail-biting 31-29 loss to No. 1 Alabama, the Florida Gators take on East Division rival Tennessee in the Swamp on Saturday night. Here are three observations, two questions, and one prediction ahead of this weekend’s game.
Here are three observations, two questions, and one prediction ahead of this weekend’s game.
Florida’s running game is legitimate and potentially even elite
The Gators’ offensive line more than held its own against a very good Alabama defensive front. We've seen this line show the first two weeks that it's not the offensive line of 2020. Saturday, it proved that. The Gators ran all over the Tide, won the rushing battle by a wide margin, the line not only provided Emory Jones with plenty of time in the pocket, it also opened holes for Florida’s stable of running backs. This offensive line is one of Florida's biggest strengths. Plus, the Gators' trio of Malik Davis, Dameon Pierce, and Nay’Quon Wright have shown they are capable of making big plays and busting off long runs. Combine those two things and that creates an attack capable of running it down anyone's throat
Jeremiah Moon making his presence felt
The Alabama native is making the most of his final year. It might not show up in the stat sheet every time but he's affected several plays and made some great ones in Florida’s three games this season. He moved inside against Bama with Ventrell Miller out and flourished as he shot through gaps, played sideline to sideline, and had some well-timed blitzes also.
Despite solid play, the little things plagued the Gators
This game felt like a repeat of the SEC Championship. Florida gets down big, makes a furious comeback attempt in the second half and comes up short. And what allowed Bama to hold off the Gators? Little things. Penalties on third down, breaking down and tackling in the open field, and getting off the field on defense with more frequency as the Tide was 7-for-13 on third downs. The missed extra point didn't decide the game but played a major role in it. Not to mention a blunder on kickoff return leaving Florida having to go 99 yards. The touchdown salvaged that mistake. But Dan Mullen mentioned the margin for error is smaller in elite games. That proved right.
What is this team’s ceiling?
At the beginning of the year, people didn't seem too high on this Gator team to make a lot of noise like it did last year. People probably thought there'd be a step back in 2021. The Gators showed their capability to hang with the big boys in Week 3. It brings up the possibility this team could accomplish more than what fans or media expected coming into the season. Although, this team has plenty of big games left and a lot more season ahead.
Will Emory Jones build on his performance?
Looking at his stat line won't wow anyone. He was 17-for-28 for 195 yards and an interception plus 77 yards with 19 rushing attempts and a touchdown. But how Jones performed goes beyond the stats. After a shaky beginning, he effectively managed the Florida offense throughout the rest of the game. Mullen mentioned how this was the first game he didn't feel Jones made a drastic error like the first two weeks. He didn't need to light it up when Florida's backfield is making tons of plays. The thing is now will he revert back or can he become more efficient?
The Gators only go up from here
A loss is a loss. There’s "No moral victories," people say. Still, plenty of encouraging things came out of the game. Mullen's brought up several times how he likes the attitude of his team. He mentioned how they were legitimately disappointed to lose to Alabama and expected to win that game. Florida showed it's better in different facets than in 2020 against the Tide. The Gators have plenty of issues to clear up but they seem fixable. However, we said the same thing last year and nothing seemed to get better. Can the Gators avoid repeating that same outcome? If so, this team's set to accomplish a lot this season.