The moment Florida’s 48-10 victory over outmanned Colorado State was complete Saturday, the situation became very clear: The referendum game is next week.
First things first — the Gators beat the Rams by 38 points in a game that, in many ways, didn’t feel all that dominating. Florida had eight fewer first downs than Colorado State and only 31 more total yards. The Gators would have had fewer yards if not for freshman backup running back Dameon Pierce’s oh-by-the-way 68-yard touchdown run late in the game.
UF quarterback Feleipe Franks started 0-for-6 and only completed eight passes for the game.
Florida won because of special teams — it blocked a punt for a touchdown, recovered a fumbled snap by a punter to set up a field goal, and got an 85-yard punt return for a touchdown by Freddie Swain. Defensively, Florida played its best game. But offensively, it took awhile to get into a rhythm, Franks again was late making throws and the team in general was just ok.
Still, one week after seeing Kentucky end its 31-game losing streak at the Swamp, the Gators bounced back. Which leads to what now stands to be the ultimate bounce back game next week — for somebody. The big question — it is for Florida or Tennessee?
Some 20 years ago, Florida and Tennessee were the kings of the SEC. In fact, it was exactly 20 years ago when the Vols shocked the higher ranked Gators in overtime on their way to a national championship. The Vols ultimately beat Florida State for the title, but it was the early season win over Florida — only two years removed from its first national crown — that ignited the championship season.
Both teams had their moments afterward — the Vols remained one of the better teams in the league through the early 2000s; the Gators won national crowns in 2006 and 2008 and finished third in the final polls in 2009. But since then, the going has gotten tough for both. The combined low point was last year when Florida had its second four-win season in the last four while Tennessee went an amazingly bad 0-8 in the SEC. The frighteningly bad seasons led to the firings of coaches Jim McElwain at Florida and Butch Jones at Tennessee.
This year, both are being led by first-year head coaches who have begun to breathe life into their respective fan bases in hopes they can rebuild the greatness of years gone by. Both UF’s Dan Mullen, who learned for years under Urban Meyer, and UT’s Jeremy Pruitt — who has worked under both Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher — have learned from great head coaches. Both teams are 2-1. Both have two wins against bad teams. Both have a forgettable loss — the Vols getting walloped by West Virginia; the Gators being upset at home by Kentucky.
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