Florida took care of business with a workmanlike 38-14 win over Tennessee Saturday night. It was another slow start for the defense, giving up 2 long TDs with poor tackling and pursuit of a simple screen pass, and a blown assignment in the secondary allowing a deep completion. To the team’s credit they dominated after that, taking a 17-14 lead at halftime and then wearing down the Vols 21-0 in the second half. That makes it 16 out of 17 against the Dollies, as Florida has made a mockery of the series. Rocky Flop, indeed.
The Gator offense looked pretty solid and composed all night. Emory Jones had an efficient game with 209 yards passing and another 144 rushing. Only a fumble by Jacob Copeland and later a penalty really stopped them. Jones completed passes to 9 different receivers, and is getting the TEs more involved as well, which stresses the defense even more and makes his job easier and more manageable. The Gators rolled up 283 yards on the ground, but I still want to see more passes to the RBs. The O-line looked a little sluggish at times, and a few guys left and re-entered with minor injuries. They seemed to make some adjustments at halftime and pushed the Vols around after that. Justin Shorter is starting to get more involved at WR, but Copeland and Xavier Henderson need more looks and touches – they are simply too good to be underutilized in the passing game. All 3 RBs again had their moments in particular series, and look like one of the best RB rotations in the country.
Florida’s defense was mostly good, but did seem to have a bit of a letdown after the Alabama game, allowing themselves to be gashed a few times in the run game to go with the long TD pass plays. The front seven was mostly solid, but the secondary continues to miss tackles and have too many busts in coverage. At this point it just shouldn’t be that difficult – DC Todd Grantham has to simplify things for them and allow them to play fast……but this has been going on ever since he arrived in Gainesville in 2018 and likely won’t change, Kaiir Elam was not played to allow him to recover from the knee sprain he suffered against Alabama, and he was missed. But the bigger issue is the continued spotty play from the safeties. Trey Dean has been only OK, and whomever has manned the second spot simply hasn’t performed well. Even this far into the season, the staff may need to make some hard choices regarding playing time and also position switches. Travez Johnson continues to struggle at STAR, and perhaps needs a change. Jadarrius Perkins and Elijah Blades may be getting more snaps as soon as this week.
Special Teams were solid, and Jace Christmann seems to have won the PK job, making all of his extra points and a FG. He is a 5th-year player and a former all-SEC player at Mississippi St., so he’s used to the pressure.
Florida now goes to the Bluegrass State for a huge road game at Kentucky. If the Gators want to accomplish anything of note in 2021, this is a must win for them. The Wildcats have opened things up on offense more this year, with new QB Will Levis injecting some life into a moribund passing game. However, Mike Stoops will always rely on the run game first, and they have two good RBs in Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke. They have rolled up some good stats to date, but the strength of the opposing defenses is suspect. It’s on the Gator front seven to man up and control the LOS and force Levis into passing situations. He has 5 interceptions already, so the Gators could make things much easier on themselves with a complete effort for 60 minutes. The D-line needs to be disruptive and keep Kentucky off-schedule. I expect some deep shots by UK, as Florida’s safeties have blown too many assignments this season and not proven they have figured that out. Wan’Dale Robinson is by far their biggest threat at WR, and I expect Elam to be covering him as long as he can play.
On offense, Florida should expect Kentucky to do what most opponents will – load the box and force Jones to show he can move the team through the air if necessary and with efficiency. The Gator RBs are a proven commodity, but it will be Jones who again will need to make the right reads, run effectively (and often) if necessary, and stand strong in the pocket and deliver some accurate throws. The Wildcats have lost a lot of talented players to the league the past 3 seasons, and, while still well coached under Stoops, simply aren’t as good as before. The Gators need to stress the edges and take shots downfield and get some chunk plays, and not assume they can grind out drive after drive. The RBs need to be incorporated more into the passing game as well to spread the field and make things easier for Jones.
When will Florida’s special teams step up? It seems like years since they blocked a kick, and have shown no real threat returning kicks. The defense just doesn’t generate turnovers, and could really help out going forward with more aggression. Defense and special teams are even more important on the road in the SEC.
It should be a raucous crowd in Lexington Saturday night, as Kentucky thinks (again) that they are going to make some real noise in the SEC. It’s time for Mullen and the Gators to (again) silence them, and continue to build momentum as October rolls around and things start getting serious in the SEC.
Prediction: Florida 27 Kentucky 20