Ga­tors win on Hail Mary

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - TOM JONES tjones@tam­

A bomb from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleve­land se­cures a 26-20 win over Ten­nessee.

GAINESVILLE — The end­ing will never be for­got­ten. It will live in Ga­tors lore. For­ever.

A Hail Mary. On the game’s fi­nal play. To beat ri­val Ten­nessee.


“You can’t put into words what just hap­pened,” said Florida’s Feleipe Franks, the quar­ter­back who heaved the ball more than 65 yards in the air.

“Crazy, man,” said Ga­tors re­ceiver Tyrie Cleve­land, who caught the ball in the end zone to give Florida a stun­ning 26 -20 vic­tory over Ten­nessee on Satur­day.

The play will go right up there with Tim Te­bow’s prom­ise and Chris Chiozza’s 3-pointer in the NCAA Tour­na­ment. Le­gendary stuff, the type of play they slap on posters and put in high­light films.

Okay, now that we got that out of the way, let’s get to the real story.

The Ga­tors stink.

Okay, maybe that’s a lit­tle harsh. But they cer­tainly aren’t a good foot­ball team. They were darn lucky to win Satur­day, and they had bet­ter get their act to­gether if they are go­ing to make any more noise this sea­son, es­pe­cially in a pretty good con­fer­ence.

Not to throw a wrench into any­one’s chomp, but the only thing that Florida’s vic­tory over Ten­nessee proved is that Ten­nessee is aw­ful and its coach, Butch Jones, might want to start col­lect­ing mov­ing boxes.

Se­ri­ously, Butch, how do you lose a game on that play?

The fi­nal few min­utes of­fered plenty of ex­cite­ment. But don’t con­fuse drama for ex­cel­lence. This was an aw­ful game. SEC guru Paul Finebaum tweeted at half­time that th­ese teams were set­ting foot­ball back 50 years.

Th­ese were two medi­ocre teams play­ing a lousy game, and the Ga­tors won only be­cause the other team was more in­ept than they were.

“Ob­vi­ously, it was not pretty,” Ga­tors coach Jim McEl­wain said.

Not pretty, but not un­usual. The Ga­tors haven’t been a good team, at least on of­fense, for more than a few min­utes now.

Yes, the Ga­tors are miss­ing some very skilled play­ers due to sus­pen­sions. And, well, maybe all the wor­ry­ing and reschedul­ing and rust be­cause of Hur­ri­cane Irma had a lit­tle to do with what we saw Satur­day.

Then again, I’m not sure I’m buy­ing those ex­cuses.

It’s not like McEl­wain’s Ga­tors have ever been ex­plo­sive. You have to go back to the days of Ur­ban Meyer to find a Ga­tors team that could sprint up and down the field and light up score­boards. That’s what Florida foot­ball is sup­posed to be all about.

But th­ese days, Florida foot­ball is more about try­ing not to mess up on of­fense and hop­ing the de­fense finds a way to win a game. Some­thing just seems … off.

“(I’d like to see us) play with con­sis­tency,” McEl­wain said. “Play with some en­ergy. Play on the go. When they do that, they play pretty good. Some­times in life, (you have to) not (be) afraid to be wrong. Rather, think what it is to be right. We just wait to shoot our­selves, and (we’re) afraid to make a mis­take and cut it loose.”

Even when the Ga­tors do some­thing good of­fen­sively, they find a way to louse things up. Their best play Satur­day — well, aside from the Hail Mary — was Ma­lik Davis rip­ping off a 72-yard run be­fore be­ing stripped of the ball and fum­bling out of the end zone inches be­fore scor­ing.

You saw that play and thought, “Yep, that’s about right.”

Re­al­ize how the Ga­tors won this game. The of­fense had the ball for fewer than 10 min­utes in the se­cond half. Their de­fense scored on an in­ter­cep­tion re­turn. They couldn’t move the ball against a de­fense that reg­u­larly gets shred­ded. Ten­nessee dropped a sure­fire touch­down on its fi­nal pos­ses­sion. The Vols missed three field goals.

And Florida STILL needed a Hail Mary. After the game, McEl­wain tried to spin the way a coach is sup­posed to. Maybe, he said, this is the type of vic­tory that can get a team rolling.

“We’ll get there,” McEl­wain said. “But I will say this. I like this foot­ball team.”

Right now, he’s one of the few who do.

The end­ing Satur­day was a lot of fun. The rest of it, like his team, was a mess.

As­so­ci­ated Press

The Vols’ Justin Martin, bot­tom, knocks the ball from Ma­lik Davis (Je­suit High) on the 2-yard line after a 72-yard run.

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