“Nobody has seen a duck pull a truck.”
This statement would have been praised and remembered as a staple in the Florida-Tennessee rivalry if the duck never pulled the truck. Unfortunately, super edgy and overly confident comments turn into foolishness when used before a W is put into the column, and now that statement will be remembered as the last hint of dominance before the Gators’ streak over Tennessee ended. Quincy Wilson now knows all of this and will, at least for a while, be remembered as “that guy that guaranteed a win”.
The first half of last week’s game ended with Gator fans and players feeling complacent, or at least looking like they did. 21-3 against a rival that simply cannot beat the Florida Gators, right? I mean, how much better could it get? The Vols strung together checkered Neyland and grey uniforms only to find themselves being beaten in front of their sold out crowd. Boos flooded the stadium as both teams made their way to the locker room. 2.5 hours later, couches would be burned in the streets of Knoxville by inebriated fans who could not believe what they had just witnessed.
A rather stellar performance by the Purdue grad Austin Appleby in the first half would be stopped by not only the Tennessee defense, but also predictable and conservative play calling from the offensive side of the ball. The two Vol cornerbacks had proven to be far less experienced than the athletes in front of them and had been completely exposed along with the rest of the defense by a handful of deep balls mixed in with sufficient runs and screens by a pair of Gator tailbacks. Why not go back to this in the second half? (I’m talking to you, Doug Nussmeier).
The Florida Gators had folded up their tent on both sides of the ball despite overwhelming annual evidence that this was not a good idea. A year ago, Tennessee did the same with conservative play calling, this reflected the second half for the Gators. The Hurd/Dobbs tandem had been stuffed the first half. Dropped balls, missed opportunities and a Tennessee team that looked terrified.
But halftime certainly did the Vols well as they doubled their offensive statistics. The same #1 ranked Gator defense that had dominated inferior opponents just couldn’t gain traction as basically every UT drive seemed…. well, easy. This was the first time in a very long time that I felt like we just could not stop an offense. A four yard gain by Hurd felt like a win for our defense and that was when I knew- I just knew- that this was the year that the streak would come to an end.
And it did.
Us, as fans and media have had time to sit back, review and think about what has transpired over the past couple of days. And I know I’m not alone in my thinking. What if Quincy had never “spoken out of the classroom” so to speak? Would our team be playing to win and not to lose? We will never know. One thing is for sure, if the Florida Gators had lost to the Tennessee Volunteers and those horrible words that involved a duck and a truck would have never been said, the L would be significantly less disappointing and embarrassing because it wouldn’t carry the additional damage of a failed promise.
So I do think it’s fair to say this is the most devastating loss in my lifetime. Never before have I witnessed a Gator team surrender 35 straight second half points, and never before have I seen a Gator team blow a three score second half lead. The Choke at Doak and the Fiasco Bowl are the only two games that seemed to dish out a larger dose of misery, and both were before I was born. And in neither case did Florida allow their opponent to reel off five consecutive touchdowns like they did against Tennessee this past weekend. I’m trying to keep things in perspective, but that is my perspective. There just isn’t a way to sugarcoat this: it really was that bad.
And at the same time, there’s a lot we can learn from this. We can start simply by putting it behind us and moving forward, so that one loss doesn’t turn into two or three.
We now have to look ahead at the schedule. The Gators are coming back into my home state for a date with Vanderbilt. This week should be, as it has in the past, a rather easy win. Actually, I believe all UF fans who travel to this one deserve free hugs when entering the Vanderbilt stadium. If we can turn this situation into a positive and not feel sorry for ourselves, if the cards are drawn well, we could potentially find ourselves in Atlanta for the second year straight; however, an easy remaining schedule is only beneficial if you WIN.
At the end of the day, let’s sit back and picture a Florida Gator squad that is ferocious on defense with Del Rio returning on the offensive side of the ball. A squad that is humble and hungry. A squad that has arguably the easiest remaining games in the SEC. Good can come out of this and I like a focused team that has been humbled over a flashy, less focused team that’s worried about sealing the deal on a guaranteed win. And we owe it to this team, one that admits it’s been humbled, to come together as one Gator Nation with patience and perseverance.
In all kinds of weather, indeed