Tennessee Review/Mississippi Preview

Things are rocky indeed in Knoxville, as the Gators stole a 28-27 soul-crushing win at the Swamp that won’t be forgotten by either team or fan base for many years to come.  So much for all the talk from the Inbreds,  Just when they had the chance to end a 10-game losing streak to Florida, they collapsed in the clutch – again – and have to slink back to Rocky Top and take that stupid song with them.  It’s all they really know anymore……that song, and losing to the Gators.  For icing on the cake, watching those dumbass players and head coach Butch Jones run onto the field thinking the FG was good was priceless.  So much for that rabble……back to reality.

It certainly wasn’t pretty, and Florida didn’t make it easy on itself with it’s worst tackling performance in years, on top of allowing 2 trick plays that led to 10 points for the Inbreds.  Tennessee, er Elevenessee, threw the trailer sink at Florida from the start, and a lot of it worked.  Hard to believe that the Gator defense allowed over 250 yards rushing, two 100 yard rushers including QB Josh Dobbs, a double-pass for a TD, and a jump pass to extend another drive for a FG……and yet kept fighting until the end and found a way to win.  Despite a lot of negative plays, the defense never really set the edge, allowing multiple long runs by Dobbs, with the help of horrendous tackling.  Back to basics – wrap up the ball carrier, and stop trying to tackle the ball and strip it so much.  Jon Bullard continues to play at an all-SEC level on the DL, but the lack of numbers in the LB corps is being exploited.  DC Geoff Collins really has little choice other than to play mostly nickel and dime defenses, even against run-heavy teams.  Jarrad Davis and Tank Morrison have to somehow hold up through the year.

The Gator offense still wasn’t efficient, but it was opportunistic, and quite frankly, lucky to succeed on all 5 4th down attempts to stay alive.  While it’s nice to see the execution in the clutch, there’s a lot of work to do to stay out of those situations to begin with.  Will Grier showed a lot of guts and moxie, coming up with enough big plays despite taking a beating most of the afternoon.  The OL is going to struggle against better defenses all season, but at least it held up during the last 10 minutes of the game, allowing Grier and the WRs the time to make just enough plays.  Kelvin Taylor was able to provide some balance by gaining 102 yards and scoring 2 TDs, but half of those yards came on one play, and the running game is still a work in progress.  At least Grier had the steadying influence of solid TE play from Jake McGee.  Demarcus Robinson remains an afterthought at WR, and underutilized on longer throws.  Brandon Powell was used as he should be – on short drag routes, quick slants, and as a check-down to utilize his quickness and elusiveness in space.  Finally, Antonio Calloway made the biggest play of the season, turning the last 4th down conversion into the 63-yard TD that won the game.  He’s still a raw talent as a true freshman, but will only improve and be an important target for the next few years.

Now it’s time to shift the focus to the Ole Miss rebels, who come to the Swamp ranked in the top 5 and are looking to win the SEC West and reach their first SEC Championship Game.  They won’t be intimidated after playing at Bama and LSU each season, but perhaps there’s enough unfamiliarity and some disregard for Florida based on it’s struggles the past few seasons that may allow the Gators to surprise them.

Florida’s defense will be tested by perhaps the best offense it will face all season.  QB Chad Kelly (a transfer from Clemson), RB Jaylen Walton, and WR Laquon Treadwell are all capable of making big plays at any time, and coach Hugh Freeze runs a fast-tempo offense that can be hard to stop.  Fortunately, Florida has the talent in the secondary to allow the front seven to focus on slowing down the running game and forcing some bad throws, which Kelly has shown a propensity for.  The Rebel OL is in flux, suffering some injuries and the season-long holding out of OT Laremy Tunsil while under NCAA investigation – here’s hoping that he’s held out at least one more week.  This could be a huge deal in allowing the Gators the chance to disrupt the timing of the passing game and hopefully do a better job at stopping the run this week.  The Gator DL has done a good job so far of generating negative plays and getting penetration into the backfield, despite continued holding by opposing O-Lines.

The Rebel defense is led by DT Robert Nkemdiche, one of the best in the country, with great size and speed.  The Gator OL will have to account for him every down, which puts that much more stress on a shaky unit.  Their secondary can be beaten if Grier is given time to throw – I just hope he doesn’t have to take the same punishment he’s suffered the past 2 weeks, or he won’t survive the season.  Treon Harris is back from suspension, and something tells me he will get at least some snaps Saturday night – hopefully in situations set up for something special.  Maybe it’s finally time that Robinson awakens and starts making some big plays downfield.  If the OL can somehow open some space for Taylor to at least keep the defense honest, the Gators could make something happen.  The stellar TE play has to continue to provide a comfort zone to Grier, and to keep drives alive.

As I said in the season preview, the level of competition would only increase through the first 5 games, and this one will be a tough challenge for a young team to win.  The staff will need to re-focus the players after an emotional win over a rival, and that can be a tough chore.  Ole Miss won’t be fazed by playing in the Swamp, but perhaps an early Florida lead can get the home crowd even more revved up and cause doubt to creep into the Rebel player’s heads.  This is a winnable game, but can the Gators put two great efforts together in a row?  I think there are simply too many question marks still on offense to expect it, plus a level of maturity that this team hasn’t gained from experience yet.

Prediction:  Mississippi 27        Florida 20