GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Everyone can wonder where Florida would be right now if quarterback Luke Del Rio hadn’t taken that low hit and injured his knee against North Texas.
Or if the Gators had just made a couple stops to stem the momentum swing in the second half at Tennessee.
Coach Jim McElwain would answer those hypotheticals with a reminder that his Gators are still 5-1 overall, 3-1 in the conference, sitting atop the SEC East standings and No. 15 in the AP Top 25.
Actually, that’s pretty much how he answered this week when asked to assess what he acknowledged as a “very average” offense to this point.
Indeed, despite some flaws, Florida is off to a strong start this fall overall.
With no game this weekend, it’s a good time to reflect on the 10 plays that have defined the Gators’ season to this point.
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) October 18, 2016
1a. Jalen Tabor’s pick-6 against Missouri
Florida’s defense has obviously seized the spotlight this fall. It ranks third in the country in fewest yards allowed (252.5) and second in fewest points allowed (12.0).
No individual stars have shone brighter than the Gators’ pair of junior cornerbacks — Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson.
Which made it perfectly fitting for the pair to rip off back-to-back interception returns for touchdown Saturday in Florida’s 40-14 win over Missouri. The sequence sparked the offense from a sluggish start and sent the team into the bye week with some newfound momentum.
Tabor got it going with a 39-yard interception returned with 3:25 left in the second quarter for Florida’s first touchdown of the game. It was his fourth interception overall in five games this fall.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 15, 2016
1b. Quincy Wilson’s pick-6 against Missouri
Wilson followed 2 minutes, 11 seconds later with a 78-yard interception return for touchdown.
It was his third interception of the fall and marked the third game in which both had nabbed a pick.
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) October 16, 2016
3. Jauan Jennings’ 67-yard touchdown reception for Tennessee
There is one play that Tabor would love to have back. He slipped in coverage as Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs hit wide receiver Jauan Jennings for a juggling 67-yard touchdown catch and run.
That strike early in the fourth quarter gave the Vols a 24-21 lead in the Sept. 24 clash between the teams in Knoxville. The hosts continued to rally back from a 21-0 deficit on the way to a 38-28 win.
That remains the Gators’ lone blemish on the season and one that definitely got away.
— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) September 24, 2016
4. North Texas’ low hit on quarterback Luke Del Rio
Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio has been up and down in his first season as a starter. Any chance for him to build some early momentum this fall was stunted when he sprained his knee in a Week 3 win over North Texas and missed the next two games.
Only he and the Florida coaches know how that knee affected him in his return at Missouri or how close to 100 percent he really is.
What we’ll never know, though, is whether Florida would have been able to hang on for a win in that Week 4 game at Tennessee if Del Rio had been healthy. Backup Austin Appleby played great in the first half of that loss, but the offense grounded to a halt after halftime as the Vols took control.
Going back to the play in question, McElwain was so furious after North Texas linebacker Joshua Wheeler plowed low into Del Rio’s planted left leg late in the third quarter of that game that he ran out to midfield to yell across at the Mean Green sideline.
The good news, at least, was that the quarterback’s injury wasn’t even worse as it certainly didn’t look good at the time.
— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) September 18, 2016
5. Jarrad Davis’ tip/Nick Washington’s INT seals win at Vanderbilt
In its second game without Del Rio, Florida found itself clinging to a 13-6 lead at Vanderbilt in Week 5 as the offense stalled again.
It was up to the Gators’ defense to finish off that win. That’s exactly what happened as senior linebacker Jarrad Davis dropped back into coverage to tip away a pass late in the fourth quarter and junior safety Nick Washington snagged the ball out of the air for a game-sealing interception.
#Gators S Nick Washington with the game-winning INT.
— Landon Watnick (@LandonWatnick) October 1, 2016
6. Antonio Callaway’s 78-yard touchdown catch against Kentucky
Florida’s season highlight reel skews heavily toward the defense, but the Gators have shown some big-play potential on the offensive side as well.
Mostly because of sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway.
Florida hasn’t looked any better all season than it did in a 45-7 Week 2 win over Kentucky. Callaway helped set the tone with a 78-yard touchdown pass from Del Rio late in the first quarter of that win.
It was Del Rio’s best deep shot of the season as he hit Callaway in stride and brought the fans inside The Swamp to their feet.
— Ashlyn Sullivan (@ashlynrsullivan) September 11, 2016
7. Jalen Tabor’s interception against Kentucky
Tabor’s first interception of the season was his most visually impressive as he perfectly timed a sideline screen pass while splitting between two Kentucky players and snagging the ball.
The degree of difficulty on that play is what earns it a spot on this list. As McElwain would point out after the game, it was a testament to Tabor’s preparation in film study to read that play and strike in a split second.
“Jalen Tabor… We might as well call him ‘Teez’ on this one, he earned it.”
Damn right, Gary. pic.twitter.com/iHZfHFehwi
— Trevor Sikkema (@TrevorSikkema) September 12, 2016
8. Sack for safety against North Texas
Florida ranks 14th in the country in averaging 3.17 sacks per game. There have certainly been some memorable ones.
We’ll give the nod to this sack for a safety against North Texas as redshirt-junior defensive tackle Caleb Brantley plowed through the line to bring down quarterback Mason Fine in the end zone on the Mean Green’s second offensive play.
That was a tone-setter, for sure.
— Only Gators .com (@onlygators) September 17, 2016
9. Jordan Scarlett’s touchdown “drive” against Vanderbilt
Sophomore Jordan Scarlett has emerged as the best of Florida’s running backs this fall. His combination of vision and ability to slip tackles was best represented in that win over Vanderbilt.
The offense would score only one touchdown in that 13-6 victory, and it was largely due to Scarlett. He created a 24-yard run down to the Vanderbilt 18 and then made another couple tacklers miss on a 4-yard touchdown run.
— Landon Watnick (@LandonWatnick) October 1, 2016
10. Antonio Callaway’s kickoff return TD against Missouri
OK, this one didn’t have much bearing on the game as it came in the final minutes of Florida’s 40-14 win over Missouri, but it was a nice exclamation point on the victory. It also gave the Gators a little extra oomph heading into their bye week.
It was the first play of note in the return game for Florida this fall.
And, well, how often does a player score on an onside kick? Callaway took Missouri’s ill-fated attempt 44 yards for a touchdown for his third career return score.
— Only Gators .com (@onlygators) October 15, 2016