Russell Report: Gators defeat ranked Tennessee in The Swamp
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - It wasn’t an offensive explosion, it wasn’t necessarily pretty, but the outcome was certainly effective as the Gator football team takes down nationally ranked Tennessee over the weekend to continue Florida’s mastery over the Vols in Gainesville. I don’t know if one day we’ll look back on this game and say this was the coming out party for Billy Napier or not, but there’s no question, at this juncture of Napier’s tenure at Florida, this was a huge win. It gave Gator Nation something to feel good about again and it buys Napier more time with the part of the fan base that is skeptical that he’s the long-term answer.
And offensively, this was also vintage Napier. Pound the football, establish the line of scrimmage and have your quarterback make enough plays to keep the defense honest. It worked to perfection in the first half and while some are critical that he was too conservative in the second half, the strategy, at least for this game, was the right one. Trevor Etienne was a beast at running back and Quarterback Graham Mertz was coldly efficient throwing the football, especially in the first half. Napier called the game as the scoreboard and the time on the clock in the game dictated and while some don’t like that philosophy, it worked on this night. It will be interesting to see how he calls a game in the future and if the philosophy changes with different opponents.
But the place this Gator team has arguably improved the most over a year ago is on defense where young coordinator Austin Armstrong has this unit playing inspired football. They held Tennessee’s run game that featured two backs averaging more than six yards a carry, to just 3.3 yards a carry and to less than 400 yards of total offense. Yes, some players individually were beaten on some pass plays but that happens in the NFL too. You can just see how hard they play, and as these young players gain experience, this unit should only get better. No doubt special teams still need some work, but at least for one night and one great win that featured a bizarre ending to the game, it felt good to be a Gator football fan again.
The Swamp wasn’t the only place rocking on the Florida campus last weekend as the O’Connell Center was filled to the rafters with volleyball fans who came out to watch number three Florida face number one Wisconsin, the first time a match like that has been played here since 1995 and it certainly lived up to the hype. Despite losing All-American Setter Alexis Stucky during the match, the Gators hung tough but eventually lost a five-set thriller to the badgers, who came from two games down to win with the last game going right down to the wire 15 to 13. It’s been a great run of success early for Coach Mary Wise’s gators as they beat a number of top ten ranked teams as they now enter SEC play. Maybe this is the year Gator Coach Mary Wise wins that elusive national title and if they stay healthy, they should be a team that should be right there. But a big tip of the cap to Mary for always bringing in top teams from around the country so Gator fans can witness firsthand some great volleyball and that’s exactly what they saw on Sunday. I’m Steve Russell, that’s the Russell Report!
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