Florida was favored to beat Tennessee by 28.5 points, but won by just ten. After a frustratingly "slow" game, some say there is cause for concern. Some are even saying Florida showed signs of weakness.
I don't think so. Although I predicted Florida to win by 39 points (45-6), I am still encouraged by Florida's 10 point victory.
How can this be? Because Florida showed a lot of patience and maturity. The Gators showed they can win a war of attrition.
For someone who basically promised a win in the Swamp with his "singing Rocky Top" comment, Lane Kiffin seemed more concerned with running game clock than scheming for victory. (For more on this see my comments in the accompanying poll.)
On offense, Tennessee decided to commit to a run game that was very effective at chewing clock, but not nearly effective enough to sustain TD drives. After its first drive, most of Tennessee's obvious run plays were stuffed by Florida's defense. In fact, Tennessee's best offensive plays were runs on typical passing downs (like third and long).
The Vols got some yards, but really had only one impressive drive (which was the first 16 play clock eater that resulted in a field goal). Other than that, Florida's defense played very solidly and gave up only one play of concern the rest of the game (the late TD run up the middle, which I doubt would have happened if Brandon Spikes was healthy and which came on a drive that was sustained by a ridiculous 15 yard taunting penalty).
On the other side of the ball, Tennessee's defense seemed to determined to limit the big play. The Vols tried Florida's patience by leaving two defensive backs deep for most of the game.
Tennessee's overall game plan didn't really stop Florida, it just cut their drive total drastically. Florida only had the ball eight times (the ninth ended in kneel downs), but Florida mostly had its way.
In fact, Florida only punted once, and that was in the fourth quarter. Florida scored on five of their first seven drives with the other two ending with turnovers.
Tim Tebow's interception to Eric Berry might seem like it a concern, but if you look at the play closely it was really just a great play by Berry on a pass that Tebow was probably hoping would hit the turf. Tennessee moved the ball only 17 yards after that interception, and settled for a field goal.
Florida's other turnover happened inside Tennessee's 10 yard line, after the Tennessee defender made a nice strip on Tebow while he was fighting past the first down marker. Again, this was more a result of the defender's great play than any specific error by Florida.
A few plays after the fumble return and the aforementioned ridiculous 15 yard penalty, Tennessee had good enough field position to punch in a running touchdown up the middle. This was Tennessee's best play of the game and it came with Florida's middle linebacker and best defender, Brandon Spikes, nursing an injury on the sideline.
Florida definitely left some points on the field, and also could have played a little stingier on defense. But when you look at the end result, Florida won the game by 10 points, while out-gaining Tennessee by over 100 yards on offense and winning the time of possession.
Florida ran for over 200 yards against a stout Tennessee defense. And Tennessee never really had a chance to win the game, as they never got possession of the ball in the second half with a chance to take the lead.
Tennessee was determined to keep it close by keeping it short and slow. Florida may not have blown it open like some fans would have liked, but I am impressed with Florida's patience in beating Tennessee at its own game.