Quincy Wilson’s words will be remembered as a challenged.
And Tennessee accepted it.
Forever maligned for his inability to throw the ball, it was only fitting that Josh Dobbs would make several huge plays with his arm on the biggest stage of his life to lead the Vols to their biggest win in a decade. And given the way Florida had made a theme of coming back to win in their now defunct eleven game streak over Tennessee, it was only fitting that the Vols would break that streak with the most unbelievable comeback of all.
Asked about the game after practice one day, Wilson rolled his eyes and sarcastically asked reporters, “Have you ever seen a duck pull a truck? No, because ducks don’t pull trucks. The Florida Gators are going to win, simple as that. Any more questions?”
Yeah, uh, I’ve got one. How about we keep our mouths shut until after the game going forward?
Wilson’s promise looked realistic early on, as the Gators scored the game’s first 21 points. First came a bomb from Austin Appleby to Antonio Callaway that set up a quick three yard scoring strike to DeAndre Goolsby. That was followed by a well designed screen pass to Jordan Cronkrite that saw him waltz into the end zone untouched, and then Jordan Scarlett banged it in from a yard out to put Florida up 21-0.
And like they had so many previous times, Tennessee tried to give the game away. When Antonio Callaway fumbled a punt at his own goal line and gifted the Vols a first and goal at the two, Tennessee was turned away on downs. Mixed in there were two interceptions from Dobbs, the second of which was forced by heavy defensive line pressure and floated right to Jalen Tabor. That came early in the second half and appeared to snuff all the Vols’ momentum.
But then Tennessee unleashed 1.1 decades of frustration.
Whereas Tennessee receivers dropped pretty much anything thrown at them in the first half, you may copy and paste that first part of this sentence right here, swapping “dropped” with “caught.” The Vols’ first touchdown could have been pardoned with, “well they were bound to get in the end zone eventually,” but then tight end Ethan Wolf made a tremendous catch to cut the deficit down to 21-17.
Meanwhile, Doug Nussmeier, who called a brilliant first half, inexplicably crawled back into his shell in the second half. The first half featured a pleasant mix of deep balls, screens and play action passes, but the second half was an incredible two-call sequence on loop: run left, run right. Repeat. Newsflash Nuss, that’s not playing conservative, that’s telling Tennessee exactly what you’re going to do before you do it. You’re a great offensive coordinator, but that was, shall we say, not great.
With the way the Florida offense floundered, the outcome was inevitable. The only surprise was that it took the Vols 17 minutes of game action to make the Gators pay for it.
Tennessee took the lead for keeps on a busted coverage in the secondary, the rewards of which were reaped by Jauan Jennings on a juggling 67 yard touchdown reception. That made the score 24-21 with 12:45 to go, and even having gone through the last two games against the Vols, it just felt like the Vols had finally ended the streak. Such was the momentum Tennessee had built. And end the streak they did, icing it with Dobbs’ five yard TD run to put the Vols up 38-21.
After a loss like that, it’s only natural to want to point fingers, and there isn’t really just one culprit. Quincy Wilson certainly deserves some of the blame, not for the way he played (other than a stupid personal foul penalty, he actually played really well) but for guaranteeing a win. Because yes Quincy, when you beat a team eleven straight times, the twelfth win just happens automatically. And when you go up 21-0, your fellow corners can just sit back and chill the rest of the day. That’s a horrible attitude, one that, if you’re in any sort of mood to do yourself a favor, you should never employ again.
And really, Quincy, when you call yourself a leader and you say something like that, don’t you think other players are going to listen and get the wrong idea? Which of course is on them too for listening to you, but still…?
But I’ve taken two days to sit back and try to think of a worse called game than the one I saw Saturday, and all I’ve got are the Steve Addazio years in 2009 and 2010. (I can hereby confirm through multiple people close to the 2011 team that Will Muschamp ordered his offensive coordinators to water down the offense, so I won’t fault the coordinators for that. As Muschamp himself always said, that’s on him.) Steve Addazio is not somebody you want to hear yourself compared to, Coach Nuss. And I do truly believe you’re a brilliant offensive mind. So let’s call this a learning experience, and never do it again.
Never think the game is won just because you scored 21 points to start the game. Never think that just because you called a few deep balls and they worked, you’ve done it enough and can therefore put that part of the game plan away. Never think that just because Tennessee finally got defensive pressure, you can stop calling screen passes even though you had success with them in the first half.
The good news is, the SEC East is still very much up for grabs. Tennessee still has to play Georgia, Texas A&M and most importantly, big bad Bama. Florida, meanwhile, benefits from about as easy an SEC schedule as they could possibly ask for: drawing an LSU team that’s completely imploded and an Arkansas team that appears to be on the verge of doing the same is certainly better than drawing Alabama and Texas A&M from the West. And with the exception of Arkansas and Vandy, the Gators get the rest of their games at home: LSU, Missouri and South Carolina all have to head down to the Swamp (with Georgia of course being neutral).
So Tennessee could very easily lose twice. Even as bad as Georgia looked this past Saturday, they now get the chance to bounce back by playing the Vols at home. And even if Tennessee survives that, they have to go to Texas A&M before hosting mighty Alabama the week after. All Florida has to do is win out with what the experts say is the easiest remaining SEC schedule, and things should take care of themselves.
Now is the time for the Gators to learn their lessons. Quincy Wilson needs to learn to shut his mouth. His teammates need to learn that nothing is ever guaranteed and that wins don’t just happen. Doug Nussmeier needs to learn to keep his foot on the gas pedal. And if they all do those things, the Gators should be all right.