Florida Gators: 5 things we learned from comeback win over Tennessee
What a game.
The Gators moved to 4-0 with a dramatic 28-27 comeback win over Tennessee in the Swamp on Saturday. What did we learn from the victory?
1. Freshmen?: I’m not sure we can even call them that at this point. These first-year guys are playing beyond their years. Freshman wide receiver Antonio Callaway from Miami-Washington was the star of the night after hauling in a 63-yard game-winning catch with 1:26 left in the game. Freshmen offensive guard Tyler Jordan and offensive tackles Fred Johnson and Martez Ivey played on the line together during stretches against Tennessee. Yes, three freshman offensive linemen played together against TENNESSEE! On the other side of the ball, defensive end Cece Jefferson logged his second start of the season Saturday. Where would Florida be without these freshmen? Probably not in a good place.
“I tell them every day how happy I am and how glad I am that they’re Gators,” coach Jim McElwain said of his freshmen after the game. “They’ve come in and contributed and will continue to be really good players.”
2. Will Grier is the guy: Even though quarterback Will Grier turned in an uneven performance — 23-of-42 for 283 yards, two touchdowns and one interception — he has proven to McElwain that he can move the offense down the field in tough situations. Grier completed 11-of-18 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. It’s hard to imagine McElwain turning to Treon Harris against Ole Miss next week coming off this performance from Grier. It’s also important to remember that Grier is a redshirt freshman and he has just three career starts under his belt. With each experience, he’s going to improve. A redshirt freshman quarterback leading a comeback victory over conference rival Tennessee is already a pretty good accomplishment.
3. McElwain trusts Kelvin Taylor: There has been a lot of talk involving freshman running backs Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett to start the season. The duo has played well as part of a three-back rotation with ex-Glades Day star Kelvin Taylor. But in Florida’s toughest test of the season so far, McElwain stuck with the junior. Taylor ran for 102 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, while Cronkrite and Scarlett didn’t touch the ball against the Volunteers. It’s evident that Taylor will get the majority of the carries in the Gators’ big games this season.
4. Tackling needs to improve: The win will overshadow Florida’s tackling issues, but it doesn’t fix the problem. The Gators have had trouble tackling at times this season, but the issue was on full display against Tennessee. The 6-foot-3 quarterback Joshua Dobbs and the 6-foot-4 running back Jalen Hurd combined for 238 rushing yards Saturday with most of their production coming after contact. There were plays that Gators defenders could be seen going for the strip instead of the tackle. If Florida doesn’t fix the problem fast, a potent Ole Miss offense will take advantage next week.
5. Already exceeding expectations: It’s still early, but the Gators are already exceeding the expectations of many. Remember, Florida was picked to finish fifth in the SEC East behind Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri and South Carolina in the annual media voting at SEC Media Days. Well, the Gators have already beaten the Volunteers and they are likely be favored against the Gamecocks later in the season. This marks the first time Florida has started the season with a 4-0 record since 2012, when it finished with an 11-2 record. Can the Gators duplicate that season this year? Not sure about that, but Florida is ahead schedule at this point.