Fall Sports

Grading the Gators: Florida defends The Swamp for the first time since 2009

Photo by Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images

Florida State no longer reigns supreme in The Swamp. The Gators won at home against their in-state rivals for the first time this decade. Tim Tebow was the last UF quarterback to beat FSU as home, but quarterback Kyle Trask and his cast of talented receivers made sure that trend no longer rings true.

Offense: A-

Boy, is Florida is going to miss its wide receiver depth next season.

Senior Freddie Swain and redshirt senior Van Jefferson ran a clinic against the Florida State secondary, as the upperclassmen led Florida with two touchdowns apiece.

Fellow seniors Tyrie Cleveland and Josh Hammond also contributed heavily in the passing game, as all four players combined for 193 receiving yards.

They reaped the benefits of an evenly distributed air attack ran to perfection by quarterbacks Kyle Trask (30 of 41 passing, 343 yards, three touchdowns) and Emory Jones (5 of 6 passing, 47 yards, touchdown). The signal callers took what the Seminoles gave them, using the short passing game to get to manageable down-and-distances, and their receivers did much of the heavy lifting by racking up yards after the catch.

Swain’s two touchdowns (19 yards and 23 yards) came on receptions just five yards or less past the line of scrimmage.

Screen passes to Cleveland (25 yards), Hammond (31 yards) and Kadarius Toney (45 yards) all went for big chunks of yardage, while running back Lamical Perine did most of his damage catching passes out of the backfield (40 yards on three grabs).

Meanwhile, Jefferson carved up the FSU secondary with impeccably run routes. His first touchdown came in the back of the end zone, where he shielded the defender from the football with his 6-foot-2 frame and tapped his toes in bounds.

His second score came on a slant. Jefferson hesitated (waiting for Jones to sell his run fake), then exploded off the line of scrimmage, losing his defender and flashing wide open into the painted area.

Florida exploited Florida State with its athletes in space. Although the Gators only ran for 77 yards, they out-gained their opponent by 217 yards. It was clear that the Seminoles’ defenders were no match for Florida’s multitude of weapons.

Defense: B+

The Gators looked a little vulnerable early, but they quickly corrected their issues.

Florida State drove down the field on its opening possession and tied the score 7-7, going 75 yards in 10 plays (including a 45 yard pass to Tamorrion Terry).

However, Florida forced three straight three-and-outs following the touchdown, helping its offense race out to a 27-7 lead in the second quarter. It stymied FSU’s best offensive player, running back Cam Akers, to just 21 yards on eight carries in the first half.

Stepping up for UF on defense was Ventrell Miller and Zachary Carter. Miller led his team in tackling (8, career high) and made two tackles for a loss. Carter also had a pair of tackles for a loss and a sack, which punctuated the third of Florida’s trio of three-and-outs.

Florida forced eight sacks in total, as it made life for quarterbacks James Blackman and Jordan Travis miserable. Leading the way, again, was Jon Greenard. He had three sacks, bringing his season total to 9, good for the SEC lead.

Henderson had some issues covering Terry. On the receiver’s 45-yard catch-and-run, Henderson expected help from safety Jawaan Taylor, who was sucked up by Blackman’s run-pass option. Terry went off for 131 receiving yards, making six of his seven catches against the highly touted Henderson, who broke up just one pass.

While Henderson struggled in coverage, his defensive line rarely gave FSU’s quarterbacks time to throw. They were hurried five times in addition to the eight sacks, as Todd Grantham’s defense brought a multitude of blitz packages.

Special Teams: C

It was rather pedestrian day for punter Tommy Townsend. That was until he ran the football to his own 19.

Townsend received the ball just in front of his five yard line and immediately took off. He was brought down at the line of scrimmage, failing to convert fourth-and-1.

With his team up 23 points with just over 11 minutes, it was a puzzling decision, but also an exciting one. Maybe Townsend (or his coaches) thought there was nothing to lose in that moment, but had FSU scored on the ensuing drive (it didn’t), then the momentum could have flipped in a two-score game.

Kicker Evan McPherson also had a miscue, missing an extra point in the second quarter. But he more than made up for that with a 50-yard field goal just before halftime.

Swain also muffed a punt, but he was lucky a flag went for illegal formation flying before his fumble.

Toney, however, looked good returning punts, a task that may fall to him after Swain’s departure. He had one return for 12 yards. Cleveland also returned a kickoff to the 44 yard line (40-yard return).

The special unit didn’t have their cleanest day on the gridiron, but it did do some very nice things.

Coaching: B+

Marco Wilson felt the palm hit his earhole. He was jawing with FSU receiver D.J. Matthews after an incomplete pass in the end zone, and the Seminole took a shot at him, Rather than retaliating, Wilson fell down.

A delayed reaction? Yes. But a dumb decision? No.

Wilson drew an unsportsmanlike foul against Matthews and kept his composure despite the hatred and volatility that comes with a rivalry.

This is an example of good coaching. The UF coaching staff trained its guys to benefit from high tempers, not fall suspect to them.

Yes, Florida did fall victim in cases. Luke Ancrum was called for an unsportsmanlike foul just after the first half ended, and Kyle Pitts was called for unnecessary roughness. But in comparison to Florida State, which committed 13 penalties for 97 yards, Florida’s three lowly penalties represented a high level of composure.

Regarding the X’s and O’s, Florida’s offense did a great job of staying within itself. UF didn’t abandon the run altogether, but it utilized the short-passing and quick-screen game to get blockers in front of playmakers, creating 11 passing plays of 15 or more yards.

On defense, Todd Grantham knew Florida State’s offensive line is one of the nation’s worst. He attacked that underperforming unit by keeping numbers in the box and allowing his corners to play man-to-man. This prevented the run from getting going and locked up receivers long enough for the pass rush to get home.

Similar to a season ago, Florida is playing its best football as it barrelled down the stretch of the season, fighting for a New Year’s Six selection.


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