Will Muschamp...smiles? (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
Relevant Kanye: "Celebration."
1. This game still makes me so nervous it spoils my appetite for hours, which is why I was dropping chicken on my laptop at 10:30 Saturday night. During the 2000 game I sweat through my shirt in a freezing apartment waiting for Jabar Gaffney to drop the winning touchdown. During the 2007 game, a game so hot I thought my corneas were going to fall out of my gelatinous, melting eyeballs, I stayed through the last snap of a Mongolian hammer party of a game just to watch Tennessee suffer because...because the suffering gave me pleasure. Great, deep, rewarding, endorphin-rich pleasure.
The scene at the end of Deliverance, where Jon Voigt raises the bow, kills a man, and then weeps for the savagery he's discovered in himself, other men, and in cold, indifferent nature? This game is like that, but without tears, or at least not the tears of a man feeling sorrow, but those of someone with a malfunctioning limbic system lining the walls with plastic sheeting, arranging the tools carefully on the table, and looking at the victim prone on the table as the tears stream down his face. I would really like to argue the point that Dexter would not be the greatest possible embodiment of a Florida fan, but this slide labeled "9.15.12" I'm sliding into a wooden box I keep in the living room won't let me.
[strokes the box, stares longingly at the ceilng]
2. So if you told me that at the half, down 14-10 in the same mode as the Texas A&M game, on the road and merely trying to survive the first half flurry from Tyler Bray, I would have still been nervous as hell about the prospects, about the idea of Tennessee just hitting the nitrous, flooring it with bombs from Bray to Patterson and Hunter, and then keeping the line off balance with Neal runs up the middle, and then the blood, and the screaming... it would have made terrible, paranoid sense to me. Florida's offense, aside from a third down lottery-shot from Driskel against the blitz and the TREY BURTON WILDCAT OUT OF NOWHERE, was doing its usual marooned Roomba imitation.
3. Paranoia made even more sense if you watched the opening drive of the second quarter by Tennessee. Tyler Bray went 7-11 on the drive, overcoming penalties and looking better in third and long than he ever did in third and short because Tyler Bray may have football farsightedness, and can only really see things clearly ten yards away. He was patient, which Tyler Bray rarely is; he was unflustered, without memory, and scarily accurate for the last time in the game on the TD pass, a floater over coverage into Rivera's waiting hands.
4. Then this happened.
That only led to a field goal, but note a few things. First, that Sunseri is blitzing the daylights out of Driskel, something he would not stop doing the entire game on any down. Second, please note Xavier Nixon at left tackle buries his man at left tackle, because that is a good thing he did, and it's only going to get weirder for him deeper into the game. Third, Jeff Driskel rolls right with two men in his face and darts a ball to Solomon Patton for a crucial first down, and this weird warm sensation in my heart tells me I'm either having a slow-burning coronary or feeling this weird emotion called hope.
5. Todd Blackledge also notes just before the half that Florida's backup line is in late in the second quarter because "Will Muschamp needs fresh bodies for the fourth quarter." Todd Blackledge, in the edited script of the game in your head, is the guy who says "I'm just going to keep this gun in this drawer. It's loaded. Don't shoot it at anyone, that would be bad."
6. And rewatching the third--where Florida ended the game, scored seventeen points to Tennessee's six, and swept Sunseri's scattered blitzes to the winds--it's even stranger than we remember. That is a kind of veer/fly-sweep hybrid Pease brought out to slow down the blitzes, one Tennessee did not defend along the perimeter all game. That is Jeff Driskel ripping off long runs, even with Xavier Nixon (the aforementioned left tackle) whiffing on blocks and killing an entire drive by himself with a hands-to-the-face penalty
7. That is Trey Burton, the platypusback no one can really find a spot for, finding a spot doing the one thing he can do: everything. Pease had him in the wildcat, running wheel routes out of the backfield on intricate play-fakes out of that spread-out veer, and doing everything but staying in one place. The best position for Burton appears to be none at all, and after Pease tells you this he puts his sandals on his head, walks into the forest, and curses at a tree until it develops tearducts and cries. Even for weird monks, Pease is a weird monk.
8. That is also Tyler Bray coming apart, something i had to watch three times just to understand. Bray went 1-10 in the fourth quarter, but the disintegration began with drops, and hands on his jersey, and then most damaging of all, his feet. Go back and watch the tape courtesy of ESPN3's glorious replays, and you will see that in the third and especially the fourth Bray is annoyed into mistakes, overthrows, and neural short-circuits.
9. This manifested itself in his feet more than anywhere else. When Bray's feet are solid and planted, he is a tactical weapon. When they move, he is a cheap mortar mounted on the back of a Hi-Lux, tossing shells in no particular direction and creaking around the corners. Dooley caught one of those. It was amusing.
The moment Bray came apart completely might have been the sequence in the third when Bray misses badly to Hunter--not a drop, but a flat out miss on an out route he usually hits in his sleep. Then they miss another pass, then Bray comes back to Hunter, and then a run, then Lerentee McCray is lined up against the TE Rivera. McCray leaves Rivera in the turf, gets an arm across Bray, and Matt Elam finishes the play with the ball in his hands. Matt Elam is the safety for Florida. This is not in any pass scheme Tennessee has ever designed, and never will be.
10. A lot of that was Bray getting spun off his equilibrium by the Florida line (fresh bodies!), but if nothing blew Bray's gaskets completely by itself, the finishing blow to his composure had to be Corderelle Patterson dropping an ever-so-slightly long deep bomb at the start of the fourth. Patterson was gone, and tried to one-hand a ball that Blackledge (right again on a very good night for him) should have brought in with both of his very free, very unoccupied hands. Bray doesn't come close to putting one through the tire the rest of the game, or even hitting the tree the tire is swinging from, or perhaps the grass and flowers around said tree. It was as bad as he has ever been.
11. At 9:15 in the fourth Bray puts his hands on his hips and huffs in disgust. His brain is departed, somewhere on a jetski in the mesosphere angrily throwing beer bottles at cardboard cutouts of Sharrif Floyd. He's utterly fried.
11. Dooley effectively ended the game for Tennessee by punting on their own 49 on 4th and 2 in the second half. Forget Bray: Tennessee probably could have gotten two yards with their wildcat, much less a slant to Patterson (who outmuscled his man all night on the pattern.) They punted, and thus surrendered the field to the team's inferior unit, the defense. It's easy to criticize Dooley at times, and this is one of those times.
12. Remember the manic blitzing? On the Hammond TD, the score where Florida ended the game, and perhaps Dooley's career at Tennessee, Sunseri brought at least six, and perhaps seven on an alert read on a man out of the backfield. It is beyond a Saban blitz: it's a balls-out, all-in frenzy party straight from the Jon Tenuta book of hulksmash blitzes.
13. Driskel threw his TD to Reed off his back foot under pressure, and this one is also with a rusher in his face, a tidy throw to Hammond squatting on the curl in a smash route on the right side. Four men in coverage, four receivers in coverage, and then it turns into a race to the endzone. The way the camera panned had to be agony for Tennessee fans: moving left to right, scanning the field for anyone coming hard from the hash to make the tackle, and then finding only Hammond, open grass, and the obligatory shots of sad faces and crossed arms in the stands.
14. We know the following, all of which should temper outrageous enthusiasm:
- Tennessee is fundamentally unsound on defense. The Burton Wildcat TD came from an awful angle, and the Vols lost contain on the edge all night. This is why Pease kept calling that fly sweep: he likes what works, and that worked every time he called it. That helped open up the run game in the middle, and then Mike Gillislee ate his dinner in between Jeff Driskel scrambles.
- Tennessee also abandoned the run game before they had to, and attempted nothing on the perimeter whatsoever. Why you wouldn't at least try using Cordarrelle Patterson as a perimeter blocker on something is beyond us, but the end result was Bray looking at eight men in coverage and seeing Chinese. Wait long enough with enough men in the pattern, and sooner or later he will throw it to his own coach.
- Florida still had issues in third and short situations.
- Florida still doesn't really have anything like a deep threat on offense. Pease has used smoke and mirrors to get people downfield---see Burton's reception, for instance--but for the moment, it's still MIA. (Not that Florida's needed it, but they will. If you don't throw deep, they never back up.)
15. We also know that Florida has won two games in a row on the road in the SEC, and done both trailing at the half. We know that once the Florida defensive staff sees what you are doing on the field, then there is a very good chance you will do absolutely nothing in the second half whatsoever. Tennessee had five yards of offense in the fourth quarter. FIVE.
16. We also know Will Muschamp's fight card now. In any corner of any octagon Florida plays in this year, the fighter in the orange and blue trunks will be looking to take the fight to the ground, and keep it there. Wins by submission are the design, denying the opponent any opportunity to get up and turn the match into a fistfight. Ground and pound will be the mode, and if the fight goes into the third round then that fight is effectively over for so many reasons: because they've planned it this way, because the conditioning is unreal, and because the opponent, if this all goes right, will have no options but to get on the ground with you and play your game.
17. Someone will come along and upset this--most likely LSU in two weeks, a team also fond of taking the fight to the ground and exterminating all hope. This is a very young team playing a brutal, measured form of football it takes years to master. On the sensei curve, they are still in the academy while Miles and Saban chop apples in half with their bare hands on the mountain top.
18. But there's a very specific hope at work here: the hope that exists without expectations. I loved watching Brian write about last year's Michigan team because of the surprise, the week-to-week slow reveal of what this team is going to be, and the uncertainty of the present being the only data. This team has that, with so few preconceived narratives, so little riding on each game as a point. It is the opposite of the 2009 team, a new invention week to week.
19. I'd call this optimism if I wanted to remember trends and how things were moving over time, but for the moment enjoy the amnesia, and the deeply odd sight of Will Muschamp smiling at a football game. It's a celebration, bitches; grab a drink, grab a glass, and don't look so surprised, Derek Dooley. You wear those orange pants, and someone's gonna get the urge to spank that ass. (Probably Lerentee McCray, actually, and there is not a damn thing you can do to stop him.)