The No. 8 Florida Gators defeated the Tennessee Volunteers 34-3 in what has become par for the course in this “rivalry” of late. It was behind an offensive line still gelling and with a redshirt junior backup quarterback making his first start since his freshman year of high school.
While Kyle Trask was the obvious story on the day, there are still ample other topics to brag on and a few to worry about as the Gators face the middle of their schedule. So as you head back to work this week, study up first with these watercooler topics from the Gators win over the Vols.
The Pass Protection is Becoming Elite
It’s a little hard to stomach where the run game is through four games but in the meantime, let’s just sit back and enjoy the return of the fun-and-gun. Steve Spurrier said on Saturday that watching Kyle Trask at quarterback reminded him of Danny Wuerffel, the highest of compliments. With Feleipe Franks at the helm to start the season (before injured) and Trask taking over on Saturday, the Gators have now thrown for 250+ yards in four straight games. The last time that happened was a November stretch of games in 2007; yes when Dan Mullen was offensive coordinator. While credit is due to Franks and Trask, the time they’ve received in the pocket has been noticeably extended. While Trask gets the ball out a bit quicker than Franks, the line has given both QB’s close to four seconds to throw if they want it. This allows receivers time to break free on their routes and the passers time to let plays develop. So props to John Hevesy and this starting five (with Richard Gouraige as first guy in) for putting up a stiff front on pass protection. They’ve given up five sacks through four games, one less through this point last season, against lesser defensive lines.
The Run Protection Isn’t…but Saw Flashes
No, the run protection isn’t great. The run game is averaging 52.25 less yards per game than through four in 2018. The line has provided little to no lanes up the middle and running between the tackles only saw success on Saturday towards the end of the 3rd quarter (and beyond) after the Vols were wore down. Since the passing game has been clicking, the offense could arguably rely on that through the first half until they are able to wear down the defense enough to start to run more. But that’s a risky game to play. The best moments on Saturday were when Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce went to the left tackle, bounced from there and got around the defense on the outside. This happened more than once when Chris Bleich and Kyle Pitts combined for blocks that gave Perine a seam. From there his vision took over and he took advantage. The senior had his best performance—62 yards and a touchdown on 14 touches—yet this season. With Jean Delance still nursing a foot injury, coaches were forced to bring him out at times and move Stone Forsythe from left tackle to right and have Richard Gouriage in at left. This beget some of the better run plays on the day and could be a possible lineup against Towson, giving Delance more time to rest his foot.
The Sack Count is Ridiculous
The Gators defense leads the country with 20 sacks through four games (well technically, they’re tied with Ohio State and Virginia but the number is at the top of the list). That means they’re on pace for 60 this season, a number that would bypass the 54 tallied by National Champion Clemson last season. That number is slightly inflated, thanks in large part to the 10 that was laid on Jarren Williams in the win against Miami. BUCK Jon Greenard is tied for 19th in the nation with his personal 3.5 sacks. When defensive end Jabari Zuniga returns from a nagging ankle injury, he’ll join Greenard and second BUCK Jeremiah Moon (who lines up at end to play with Greenard at times) and will look to create a trio that actually chases that statistical pinnacle. Can they actually reach 60 sacks? Probably not. But if they continue to get anywhere close to the push they’ve had in their first four games, then it could easily be the best sack showing in recent years.
Related: Spectacular it Wasn't; Solid it Was
The Turnover Count is (also) Ridiculous
Tip drill for the win! Wow, what a turnover performance by the Gators defense on Saturday. It helped Florida win the turnover margin as there were some hiccups in Trask otherwise efficient first start (fumble and two interceptions). But Todd Grantham’s guys pulled in four of their own to win the margin and keep the Vols from scoring a touchdown all day. One interception by Marco Wilson looked as if UT quarterback Jarrett Guarantano intended the pass for the Florida corner it was so on the money. Wilson made arguably an even better play midway through the 3rd quarter. At midfield, Brian Maurer (who came in for a benched Guarantano) scrambled and looked to dump it off to a receiver at the sideline. Wilson tipped it back and Amari Burney was there waiting to pull in the ball. It was the second tip interception of the day. The first came when the Vols took what should have been a chip shot to the endzone. From the 3-yard line, Guarantano tried to fit one in double coverage to UT’s best receiver, Jauan Jennings. But Gators safety Shawn Davis got a hand in and tipped it backwards over the receivers head, where STAR Trey Dean III was waiting. Those are the plays that some would see and say “well it’s good to be lucky too” but the defense practice often those tip drills and are in place for those moments. Yea it’s good to be lucky. But the defense isn’t lucky on these turnovers; they’re prepared. And it’s paying off.
Florida will next face Towson on Saturday at 4pm, kickoff on SEC Network. Broadcast information hasn’t been announced yet for the following Saturday against Auburn, but given the slate of games that day, it should be the 3:30 CBS game of the week.