Jones, suddenly stingy defense, lead Florida to 38-14 victory

Sep 26, 2021 | 0 comments

Powered by the best game of Emory Jones’s career and a defense committed to limiting big plays in the second half, Florida won handily, beating Tennessee 38-14. It’s 16th victory in the last 17 meetings. A lackluster first half gave the impression this could be a letdown game for the Gators. But the Gators went into the locker room and came out for an impressive second half to secure a 24-point win over an SEC East rival and move to 1-1 in conference play.

Cleaning up the defensive mistakes

Stop me if you heard this before: Florida made some bad mistakes on defense.

We saw them immediately on Florida’s first defensive drive. Amari Burney and Rashad Torrence missed tackles, one in the backfield and one in the secondary, that led to Tennessee tying the game 7-7. Mordecai McDaniel then got caught peeking in the backfield as JaVonta Payton blew by him on a go route out of a stack formation for a 14-10 Tennessee lead. “You’re in man coverage, cover your man,” Dan Mullen said to that gaffe.

Mullen challenged Florida’s defensive unit at halftime asking them if they wanted to be great. If they truly wanted to, they’d need to clean up the mistakes and play every play with attention to detail. Florida pitched a shutout in the second half allowing for the 24-point win. Taking out those two big touchdowns, the Gator defense allowed only 301 yards of total offense.

“We felt that they didn’t have the ability to drive the ball on us play for play,” linebacker Mohamoud Diabate said postgame. “We didn’t think they could do that. So, we just had to eliminate the big plays and make sure everybody was on their assignment. The message I told everybody on the sideline was, ‘Hey, everybody do their job. We don’t need anybody trying to make plays and everything will fit into place perfectly like a puzzle piece.’”

Offense heats up in second half and gets a little tricky

Florida scored on its first two possessions. But some seeds of inefficiency could be seen as a false start and a delay of game pushed the Gators back to force their field goal attempt. Then the offense punted on back-to-back drives.

The Gators would’ve scored on two straight drives following that but Jacob Copeland fumbled fighting for more yards. Then the offense came out in the second half and put up 21 unanswered points. It actually scored touchdowns on three of its four drives in the second 30 minutes of play.

They did it in a flashy way to open the half too as, according to quarterback Emory Jones, Mullen checked into Kodak: the same play they used to take the lead against Mississippi State in 2018. Trent Whittemore received a pass in the flats, looked downfield to Kemore Gamble, and fired to the tight end in the end zone for a score leading to a 24-14 lead.

“It was executed really well,” Mullen said. “You call trick plays and a lot them are about timing and execution. I thought it was a good time because we were driving and they were kind of in the red zone in attack mode. We executed it really well.”

Jones even gave Whittemore his blessing to use the archer celebration.

The Gators finished the game with over 500 yards of offense and 283 rushing yards. Dameon Pierce, who finished behind Jones with 62 rushing yards, said the Gators running the ball like they did is just what they always do week to week. But they’re taking what the defense gives them.

“If they want us to throw, we’re going to throw it all night,” he said. “If they want us to run, we’re going to run it all night. And if we can’t do both, we’re going to have to find a way.”

Emory Jones’ career day

Speaking of Jones, he did something not done since Tim Tebow blew out Florida State on senior day in 2009. And was the second guy in 25 years to do it. His 209 passing yards and 144 rushing yards Saturday night marked the first time a Gator QB had 200 and 100 in a game since Tebow. He did accomplished that four times.

“That’s my dog,” Pierce said. “My dog balled.”

Both of those numbers are career-highs for him too. He even accounted for five of Florida’s 10 big plays in the run game. Mullen said Jones did a good job managing the offense, checking into the right plays and showing good decision-making in the passing game. Pierce said they are just scratching the surface of what Jones can do.

“I’m definitely just warming up,” Jones said. “Everything I’m doing I’ve done before. All my teammates have seen me do all this and more for us. They are confident in me. They trust and believe in me.”

It seems that Alabama game truly was a turning point for Emory Jones.

Stepping up with injuries

This Florida team, specifically the defense, has been hit with injuries already and it’s only Week 4. There was Jaydon Hill’s torn ACL before the year started, losing Ventrell Miller after Week 2 and then Kaiir Elam’s scratch from the Tennessee game with an injury.

Jason Marshall Jr. got his first career start opposite Avery Helm in Elam’s stead. Meanwhile, Diabate played his second game as the starting mike backer.

Diabate finished with eight total tackles, the Gator secondary allowed 275 yards passing on 31 attempts with the two gaffes cited above contributing to that number.

Mullen mentioned the secondary is a position where they’re “paper-thin” at with Hill gone, Elam injured, and another corner, walk-on Patrick Moorer, out for a few weeks. They’re hoping to get Elam back for the team’s upcoming tilt with the Kentucky Wildcats.

Diabate said he went to tell those two corners he was really proud of them. The linebacker said he specifically is hard on them but he has confidence in those two guys being out there because he sees the work they put in. They care about it.

“And that's half the battle, just working hard and caring about your job and they do that and they have the talent so, the rest will be taken care of,” he said.

The junior’s no stranger to filling in when his number gets called. He’s done it the last two years when Jeremiah Moon went down with an injury. The secret to contributing when your number is called is just preparing like you’re the starter day-in and day-out. It’s not a once in a while thing. A player has to be in that mindset daily.

Like every game before this one, there were some things that need to be fixed but Florida did enough good things to pull out the win. They continue to put points on offense and the defense, for its faults, is stopping teams for Florida to build leads (outside of Alabama). The Gators just need to find a way as a team to come out a little faster.

Tags: Player

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