Tennessee have tried something new, baring freshman quarterback Harrison Bailey as a starter in an attempt to avoid their first 6-game losing streak since 1988. Meanwhile, Florida has done the same as it did. all season: The Gators have relied heavily on a heavy pass. offense with Heisman candidate Kyle Trask. It worked best for the Gators who won the SEC East to clinch a spot in the SEC Championship game with their 31-19 victory over Tennessee on Saturday.
Tennessee’s offense struggled all season and continued to do so against Florida as Bailey was valiant but also often squeezed behind the struggling UT offensive line allowing for several sacks. Tennessee struggled to establish a running game, and Bailey’s accuracy rarely had a chance to lead in points.
Florida also struggled with the racing game, mightily, in fact, but that didn’t matter.
Not when Trask threw for 433 passing yards and 4 more touchdowns – giving him 38 this season, just 1 short of Danny Wuerffel’s school record.
Kadarius Toney was his most frequent early target, approaching 100 receiving yards midway through the 3rd quarter, while tight end Kyle Pitts also went over 100 yards. Oddly enough, Pitts didn’t catch a TD pass. Trevon Grimes caught 2, and Toney and Jacob Copeland added 1 each.
Florida’s victory returns the Gators to the SEC Championship game for the first time since 2016, their second consecutive trip.
It wasn’t enough from start to finish, but it was good enough.
After a Tennessee 3-and-out to open the game, Florida led onto the field before stalling. Evan McPherson’s 30-yard kick gave Florida a 3-0 lead.
After the teams traded punts, Bailey gave Tennessee their best moments of the game, leading an 11-play, 96-yard practice. The rookie threw a pass to running back Eric Gray, who crossed a seam for a 15-yard touchdown to give UT a 7-3 advantage with 9:59 left in the second quarter. The pass was Bailey’s first touchdown pass in Tennessee.
Florida responded by walking 75 yards in just 6 plays, regaining the lead on a 4-yard pass from Trask to Grimes with 7:53 left in the half. Florida has never lagged behind again.
They put on a 2-minute run with a 10-play, 80-yard walk that ended with Trask finding Toney for a 2-yard touchdown to make him 17-7 with 33 seconds left until the half.
They opened the third quarter with a 5-play, 75-yard drive that increased their advantage to 24-7. The key play of this run was a 42-yard pass to Pitts, who was calm at the start. Trask got his third touchdown pass of the day with an 8-yard finish to Grimes.
Florida extended their advantage with a 12-yard pass from Trask to Copeland with 11:21 left. That score brought Trask to a single TD assist of Wuerffel’s one-season record in Florida (39 in 1996). While Joe Burrow’s SEC record 60 touchdowns in 2019 certainly looks out of reach, Drew Lock’s second-place 44 looks well within Trask’s grasp.
The Gators improved to 8-1 this season and clinched their spot in the SEC Championship game. It was their 4th consecutive victory on the Flights and the 15th in the last 16 meetings.
Tennessee fell to 2-6 and won the second losing season of Jeremy Pruitt’s 3 seasons in Knoxville. The Gators will play at LSU next week, while Tennessee will finish at Vandy and then at home against Texas A&M.