Tennessee vs. Florida: 10 Things We Learned in the Gators' Win
The Florida Gators were able to rebound from a brutal loss to Miami with a 31-17 victory over Tennessee. It was the ninth-consecutive triumph for the Gators in what has become a lopsided series.
However, the win was bittersweet for a number of reasons.
Key injuries and more problems on offense highlight some of the main points of emphasis from this matchup.
Jeff Driskel Is out for the Year
Driskel drew a lot of criticism after his poor performance against Miami, and he did nothing to quiet the haters early in this game. He was injured on a pick-six that gave Tennessee an early lead.
Tyler Murphy's solid performance took away some of the initial sting. Still, it's never good to see anyone suffer a severe injury, and hopefully Driskel can bounce back.
Tyler Murphy Can Ball
Now, about Murphy...
He was fantastic in this game.
Yes, he messed up a few snaps. However, he also single-handedly sparked the Gator offense to victory. He made a beautiful deep throw to Quinton Dunbar and set up Solomon Patton for his big touchdown.
He was even better on the run. He saw space, hit it, and more importantly slid or scampered out of bounds to avoid contact.
It was only against Tennessee, but Murphy looked really good. After the Gators' tune-ups against Kentucky and Arkansas, we'll know what to expect from him during the meat of their schedule.
Ball Control Is Still a Problem
All that being said, the Gators once again struggled to control the football.
Although Driskel's early interception didn't turn out to be a major factor, the six fumbles that accompanied it nearly did. Even punter Kyle Christy had a miscue when he completely bungled his first snap.
Florida was extremely lucky that Tennessee's ball control was somehow worse. If the team turns in a similar performance against one of the better SEC teams, it won't get away with it.
Matt Jones Is Not at Full Speed
Jones was expected to emerge as a reliable starting running back this season. However, he has been a nonfactor throughout most of the Gators' past two games.
He is struggling to hold onto the ball, and he also appears to have lost the breakaway "zip" that he possessed in the closing weeks of 2012.
It's hard to tell if the viral infection is still affecting his performance. In any case, Mack Brown has been a positive surprise and the better runner. It will be interesting to see whether Jones can bounce back against Kentucky and Arkansas.
Solomon Patton Is a Key Playmaker
Although he caught only three passes, Patton made two plays that are worth noting.
The first was his 52-yard touchdown. Although he was aided by a poor read in the Volunteer secondary, he showed breakaway speed as he took a short pass from Murphy and ran with it.
The other was a short pass he caught in the middle of the field on 3rd-and-long. He made a move and was able to bolt to the outside and pick up enough extra yards for a first down.
Plays like these are what the Gators need someone to step up and make against their conference opponents. Based on his recent performance, Patton may very well be that guy.
Vernon Hargreaves III Is Already a Star at Corner
Hargreaves made some of the biggest plays for the Gators on defense. He showed great instincts when matched one-on-one and cerebral ability to read plays as they develop.
As the health of Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy remains a big question mark, performances like the one Hargreaves turned in are a necessary boost for the Gator secondary.
In only three games, he has proven that he merited all the hype out of high school.
Injuries in the Secondary Pose a Challenge
However, Florida's secondary did seem to lose a step by the fourth quarter.
Depending on the health of Roberson and Purifoy moving forward, the Gators may need to shuffle up their corners and safeties.
Players such as Cody Riggs and Jabari Gorman stood out Saturday, and that's a good indicator of the team's secondary depth.
But it was against Tennessee. What happens against Georgia or South Carolina?
Granted those games are weeks away. However, the Gators already lost their quarterback and a number of linemen. They can't afford to have their secondary decimated by the injury bug as well. Their depth will soften the blow, but health will be a concern.
Dominique Easley Is Unblockable
As was the case against Miami, Easley was a monster.
Along with Dante Fowler, he manhandled the Tennessee offensive line and put plenty of pressure on Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman. He proved that he can simply rush right past his defender or use his athletic skills to create separation.
Florida's front seven is special, and Easley has asserted himself as its centerpiece. If the Gators want to remain competitive, they cannot afford to lose him.
Special Teams Are No Longer a Huge Strength
A missed field goal, a muffed snap on a punt attempt and a dropped punt.
A Gator was at fault in all three of these circumstances.
Not so long ago, Florida's special teams were as close to a sure thing as you could find. Now, that's not necessarily the case.
With the way their offense has turned the ball over, the Gators need all the help they can get from other units. Their special teams did not help them Saturday. Luckily, the defense made up for it.
Austin Hardin's psyche has appeared vulnerable, and missing a field goal from dead-center between the hashes does nothing to instill confidence in him.
Overall, a lot of areas need improvement.
An SEC Championship Is Not Realistic
The high hopes in Gainesville are slowly fading away.
Yes, the defense is still dominant. Yes, Murphy gave the offense a spark and played well.
However, the odds of those two factors coming together every week from now until late November are extremely slim.
The loss to Miami erased any wiggle room for the Gators. With battles against LSU, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida State still to come, they are in danger of losing multiple games as the season progresses. Right now, they are not at the same level as those teams.
End result? A return BCS appearance looks near impossible to achieve at this point.