The Gators made it 14 out of 15 in the series with a 34-3 win over a Tennessee team and program that is only a shell of its former self. Despite it being Kyle Trask’s first start and coming in with a poor running game and key players on defense out due to injuries, the Gators were never really threatened by the Vols.
Trask was very sharp early, leading the offense to a touchdown on its opening drive and using the middle of the field most of the day – a refreshing change. The offense bogged down for a lot of the first half after that due to the continued struggles of the O-Line in the running game. It was encouraging the see the final possession of the half-turn into a time-consuming drive ending with a 4th down TD run by Perine as time expired. That score gave Florida a 17-0 halftime lead and ended any real hope Tennessee might have had. In the second half, the Gators again scored on their opening drive which essentially ended the game. There were some hiccups, though, with Trask throwing 2 interceptions to end potential scoring drives. As I mentioned in the preview, I wasn’t surprised there were some bad throws mainly due to inexperience. Coach Mullen will help Trask in correcting these reads going forward. The O-line is still a work in progress – Coach Hevesy did move some guys around and insert some new players to see if some better combinations might be available going forward. It was interesting to see the running game show life after Emory Jones came in during the 4th quarter and led the offense to its last TD. Perhaps his running ability was the reason, but will that mean situational series and plays for each QB going forward?
The defense controlled the game except for one drive in the first half, and controlled the LOS most of the afternoon, never allowing either Vol QB the chance to become comfortable. Tennessee did get some good RAC yards from WR Jauan Jennings and hit a few draw plays, but never could establish any real continuity or any extended drives. The surprising QB change to start the 3rd quarter provided them a little spark, but once that drive was stopped and ended only with a FG, that was the last real threat from the Vols for the day. The young Gator CBs like Kaair Elam and Chester Kimbrough got extended action against two very good WRs in Jennings and Marquez Callaway, and that experience should help going forward. DE/Buck Jonathan Greenard was unstoppable (again) with 3 tipped passes and a forced fumble – he looks like an all-SEC player right now and will have the chance to shine nationally in October.
Next up for Florida is a visit by the Towson Tigers – the first of 4 groups of Tigers to play the Gators in 2019 (Auburn, LSU, and Missouri to come). Towson is led by QB Tom Flacco, younger brother of NFL QB Joe Flacco. He is a dual-threat player who also leads his team in rushing yards. The obvious key to this week’s game plan for the Gator defense is to limit his effectiveness and choke off any real offensive threats. Florida has Towson outmanned and should have little trouble controlling the LOS. The only thing that could hurt is lack of focus and sloppy tackling that could extend some drives. Towson is a ranked FCS team, though, and could give the Gators a few fits early until Florida asserts itself.
The Gator offense has the opportunity in this game to continue to work on personnel combinations on the O-line to see what will be the most effective starting group going forward. Stone Forsythe may see more snaps at RT while Richard Gouriage gets his chance at LG or LT. This unit has to step up its play and generate at least a mediocre running game in October, or the hope of a big season will be ended. Trask needs to clean up some of his reads, distribute the ball to more WRs other than Jefferson, Pitts, and Swain, and exercise a little more patience by checking down underneath instead of forcing some throws into double coverage. Trevon Grimes is too good a player to disappear in this offense and needs more touches. Jacob Copeland is starting to get more reps – while flashing some big-play potential, he can improve his blocking and concentration (he dropped a sure TD pass early in the 4th quarter on a go route).
This game should be decided by early in the 3rd quarter, so the staff can rest starters and hold out injured players like Zuniga and Henderson for the big games coming up in October. Trask should get the chance to continue to sharpen his game, and Emory Jones should get more snaps and the chance to pass the ball a little more to be better prepared as needed for any extended period going forward. I expect some sloppiness as some younger guys get playing time and the mental focus may be lacking a little with Auburn coming to the Swamp next week. Once again – NO INJURIES, PLEASE.
Prediction: Florida 41 Towson 10