There is no love lost between Florida and Tennessee. The Gators and Vols proved that once again on Saturday afternoon in The Swamp. In a back-and-forth affair that did not include a touchdown through three quarters, the game ended as redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks hit Florida teammate Tyrie Cleveland with a 63-yard Hail Mary touchdown for UF to walk off with the 26-20 victory.
The touchdown toss avoided an 0-2 start for the Gators for the first time since 1971 and served as revenge after the Volunteers ended Florida's 11-game winning streak against Tennessee last season.
The moments will go down in SEC history -- Franks 63-yarder to Cleveland in stride will be seen for generations, but the game was full of fireworks in the fourth quarter.
Malik Davis looked like he was going to ice it for the Gators with 10:45 in the fourth before being stripped from behind on a 74-yard run at the goal line. The resulting possession after the touchback brought Tennessee within three with 8:36 to play, completing a 14-point swing on just six plays. After Florida's first offensive touchdown this season seemed to ice it again, Tennessee found the end zone with 4:43 to play, picked off Franks two plays later and kicked a field goal with 50 seconds left to seemingly force overtime at 20-20.
Franks and Cleveland, of course, had other ideas.
What'd we learn about the Gators and Vols? That it takes a unique kind of game to leave both fan bases -- especially in a rivalry game -- frustrated, unhappy and angry.
1. It's something to build on for Florida: No, it wasn't pretty. In fact, sometimes Florida's offense was downright ugly. But making his first start in The Swamp, Franks settled into a late groove in the fourth quarter and didn't lock in on receivers like he did in the first seven quarters of the season. Is it pretty? No. Is Florida a contender for the SEC East title? Not yet. But Franks needed something to build on after getting rattled by Michigan in the season-opener two weeks ago. He got it.
As for the running backs -- the Gators have a nice group in Lamical Perine, Mark Thompson and Davis with Jordan Scarlett suspended -- but the offensive line wasn't what it needs to be in order to compete for the division title. That's not to say that it can't evolve into a contender. It can. But 380 yards of offense against an average Tennessee defense, three turnovers and the inability to put a game that was essentially over into the books is concerning.
But it's a win. It's something to build on. With Kentucky and Vanderbilt next up on the schedule, the Gators at least gave themselves a foundation to build on following the Michigan debacle earlier this month.
2. Tennessee is John Kelly, and that's it: Quinten Dormady had happy feet from the get-go, never set his feet on deep throws, had play calling that was suspect (at best) and nearly won a road conference game. Go figure. The saving grace for the Vols to even make this game competitive was running back John Kelly, who rushed for 141 yards and a touchdown, caught six passes for 96 yards and -- had it not been for an unsportsmanlike penalty for doing the Gator Chomp after scoring the touchdown to cut the lead to 13-10 -- would have been the hero on Rocky Top.
Aside from Kelly, where's the spark? Where's the identity? Where's the offense? It's nowhere to be found.
3. Butch Jones is in trouble: The onus for this one falls on Jones, plain and simple. Florida was basically handing the game to Tennessee on a silver platter, and the best Tennessee could do is fight back to momentarily tie it before the Franks bomb. That's unacceptable.
Unacceptable because not only did Florida beat Tennessee on Saturday afternoon, Tennessee beat Tennessee. From clutch false starts late in the fourth quarter to mind-numbingly bad play-calling on the 1-yard line in the first half to the inability to develop any semblance of an offense outside of Kelly and 50/50 balls to Marquez Callaway.
Kelly averaged 7.4 yards per carry, absolutely owned the game, and Tennessee routinely lined up in shotgun on the one-yard line and on 3rd and short. Tennessee ran seven plays inside Florida's 10-yard line on the afternoon. All were passing plays, and one was intercepted. That's coaching. That's Jones.
The window to win the SEC East has been wide open for two-plus seasons, and Tennessee has let chance after chance slip through its fingers. At what point does that fall on the man in charge? It should be tonight. Right now. After Franks issued the dagger.
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