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Sunday, October 1, 2023

CFB Week 3 Takeaways: Florida Plays Keep-Away to Topple Tennessee

Not enough is made about game flow in football. It’s the way the game is going—consider it the vibe, tempo and general state of things over the four quarters. It can often dictate how and why decisions are made by certain teams and it guides why some production ends up looking the way it does at game’s end. In Florida’s 29–16 win over Tennessee, the way the Gators managed the game tells the story of how they won it, especially in the first half.

Tennessee scored in its typical lightning-quick pace on its first drive of the game, but the bulk of the first two quarters saw the Volunteers’ offense literally sidelined, with only 22 plays ran as Florida attempted—and succeeded—to run the ball effectively and chew clock from the very beginning of the game, instead of just entering that mode later in the game. It’s evidence of a team who came in with a clear plan and was able to execute it. The Gators used frequent misdirection on top of their two-headed rushing attack with Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne to essentially play keep-away, and limit the chances for Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton to showcase his rocket arm. Florida went into the break with a 26–7 lead and just sat on it in the second half, throwing the ball four times in the second stanza (in part due to injuries to both of quarterback Graham Mertz’s hands) and leaning on a defense that is clearly improved from last year’s squad.

Johnson (2) and Trevor Etienne spearheaded a rushing attack that lifted Florida to the upset win.

Kim Klement Neitzel/USA TODAY Sports

After an error-prone season-opening loss to Utah by the Gators, it was Tennessee which had flags short-circuit drives on offense and give Florida new life at times. Florida had two penalties on the first offensive drive and then didn’t have another one on offense or defense until the fourth quarter. Tennessee, on the other hand, had penalties in key situations, including an admittedly questionable blindside block call and a brutal offsides penalty with about seven minutes to go when Florida was clearly baiting them to jump. The Vols also had to burn timeouts early in the third quarter to avoid procedural mishaps. Tennessee was clearly still missing center Cooper Mays, who is still yet to play after having surgery last month.

This Tennessee offense seems a far cry from last year’s, as Joe Milton is still trying to get his sea legs under him as a complete quarterback. A fatal flaw of his remains what happens when things break down and he can’t launch the ball. The broadcast stated he has never thrown a touchdown while on the move outside of the pocket. The Vols would have certainly cracked our top 10 had they won, but they didn’t. Here’s how things stack up without them.

SI top 10 (of the week)

1. Washington

There’s a notion out there that there aren’t any dominant teams this year. Don’t tell that to the Huskies, who absolutely dismantled Michigan State, 41–7, in a game the Spartans didn’t score in for the first 54 minutes. Washington’s deep passing game is nothing short of devastating and the yardage of its 12 explosive passing plays deserve to be listed out in order:

15, 16, 23, 24, 30 (a touchdown to Ja’Lynn Polk), 30, 34, 38, 39, 39, 50, 57.

If you’ve got the Huskies on the schedule, better have your secondary right.

2. Ohio State

The Buckeyes finally got in gear, scoring 63 points against Western Kentucky with Kyle McCord finally installed as designated QB1. Marvin Harrison Jr. had 126 yards and a touchdown and it was all working for OSU to the tune of 35 points in the second quarter. You may think the Hilltoppers are an also-ran, but QB Austin Reed and WR Malachi Corley are potentially future NFL players on the WKU roster. Ohio State’s defense held them to 10 points, and showed some teeth of its own. It’s notable because next week the Buckeyes play …

3. Notre Dame

The Irish had some trouble early and pulled away late against Central Michigan to win 41–17. This offense truly looks like the one thing it was missing was Sam Hartman, who had 330 yards in what was a balanced offensive performance by the Irish considering Audric Estime had 176 yards on the ground. We can’t wait for next week’s matchup.

4. Texas

It took Texas a while, but eventually it proved that it could kick the hangover after beating Alabama as it pulled away from Wyoming late to win 31–10. Quinn Ewers was held to only 131 yards through the air, but Texas’s running game was able to give the Longhorns enough with 164 Jonathan Brooks yards on the ground.

5. Georgia

UGA also took a little bit to get going, but the Dawgs eventually were able to hold South Carolina down to get just enough going to grind out a 24–14 win at home. The Gamecocks came in with a clear gameplan to try and hit the Dawgs on the perimeter. It worked to send them to halftime with a lead, but Georgia’s quality rose to the top in the end as it flexed its muscles to stymie the Gamecocks in the second half.

6. Michigan

Blame first-half turnovers for the reason the Wolverines didn’t drop the hammer down on Bowling Green until late in their 31–6 win. The Jim Harbaugh suspension comes to an end without incident on the field as the Wolverines managed to get past three overmatched opponents in his absence.

7. USC—idle

8. Florida State

Penalties proved to be the reason why the Noles weren’t ever in serious jeopardy against Boston College despite what the scoreline indicated in the 31–29 closer-than-you’d-think victory. BC had 18 penalties on the day, which make it near impossible to win when you’re overmatched. Perhaps there was a bit of a lookahead factor as Clemson looms next week, but in the end FSU got it done in a game that effectively ended thanks to a BC penalty.

9. Penn State

The Nittany Lions downed Illinois, 30–13, thanks to four Luke Altmyer interceptions that rendered basically any and all Illini threat to win this game moot. Illinois’s defense made it tough on Penn State, in large part thanks to Jer’Zhan Newton’s stellar play on the inside.

10. Oregon

The Ducks certainly weren’t overlooking Hawaii with the Colorado game coming up next weekend. They were all over the Warriors from the beginning of the game with a 55–10 blowout victory.

SI players of the week: Michael Penix, Washington QB; Daquan Evans, USF DB; honorable mention Harrison Mevis, Missouri kicker

  • Penix had an absolutely outlandish day throwing the ball with 473 yards through the air, four touchdowns and—crucially—a 77% completion percentage. It’s even more impressive considering all the deep balls he threw. The Washington signal-caller is at the controls of the most electric offense in college football right now.
  • Eventually USF’s defense broke and allowed Alabama to score 17 points and win the game with a backup quarterback, but Evans did his part to frustrate the Tide all day with “exotic” pressure packages, in the words of Nick Saban. It’s not every day a defensive back registers a QB hurry, three sacks and another tackle for loss against an offensive line that looks like this:
  • We don’t always highlight special teams players, but when we do you know they must have done something special to deserve it. Consider Missouri kicker Harrison Mevis who won the game on a 61-yard field goal at the buzzer. The Tigers were setting up for an already Herculean 56-yard field goal before taking a brutal delay of game penalty and pushing Mevis back. It didn’t matter, and he likely would have hit the kick from 65 yards if not more.

Did you see that?

Iowa State lost a heartbreaker to Ohio and Matt Campbell almost had a testy exchange with a fan on the way out before some staffers held him back: 

There was a lot going on in Alabama’s win over USF, including a tremendous weather delay knocking some cameras out of commission. It meant ABC had to use a wide shot for most of the game, which was poorly placed: 

Tulsa’s Kevin WIlson showed that it’s important to stay in the coaches box: 

That’s a whoops from this Iowa cheerleader. Get a belt next time young fella! 

Portland State got decimated last week against Oregon, but that’s old news after they absolutely demolished NAIA North American: 

Portland State scored 42 points in the second quarter and scored on its first 11 possessions on offense before a pick six and punt return put them near 100. 

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