SEC Football Report: Florida Tops Tennessee On Hail Mary

By Andrew Kahn

This is the CBS Local SEC Football Report. Every Tuesday, this space will recap the results and top performances from the Southeastern Conference and look ahead to key match-ups the following week.

Another wild finish in The Swamp

Two years ago in Gainesville, Florida beat Tennessee on a 63-yard touchdown pass using a play called “Train Right Open, Big Ben In.” On Saturday, the Gators stunned the Vols with the same play in the same stadium. The recent rendition was more dramatic—the pass went the distance in the air and it came with no time left on the clock—and perhaps more meaningful for a Florida team that would have fallen to 0-2 with a loss.

“I think everybody found out that Feleipe (Franks) can throw the ball a long ways in the air,” Florida head coach Jim McElwain said in his post-game press conference. We sure did. The redshirt freshman Franks loaded up from his own 35 yard line and hit receiver Tyrie Cleveland in stride as he reached the end zone.

Given that there were nine seconds left when the ball was snapped, the Gators said that getting into field goal range was an option. “When I was rolling out, I was actually thinking about running it,” Franks said in his post-game press conference. “In the corner of my eye I saw Tyrie running through the back on a chase post. It was an ‘in the moment thing.’ I set my feet and put it up for him.”

Franks, perhaps to deflect the attention towards his teammate, called it a “50/50 ball.” It was not. The throw was perfect and Cleveland, who in the huddle had told his quarterback, “Give me a chance,” was open.

“I saw the corner press and I just ran fast and straight,” Cleveland said. That’s all it took for another memorable Florida-Tennessee finish, a rivalry that has gone the Gators’ way 12 of the last 13 years.

Bulldogs dominate

While Dak Prescott continues to make a name for himself in the NFL, the quarterback position at Mississippi State remains in great hands. Last week’s SEC Report mentioned Nick Fitzgerald and “Heisman” in the same sentence. On Saturday, he threw for two scores and ran for two more in a resounding 37-7 victory over visiting LSU.

LSU has had plenty of offensive struggles in recent years. In their four losses last year, they allowed an average of only 15 points. Saturday in Starkville was different. The Tigers were manhandled. They were also undisciplined, and 112 penalty yards, including two that negated touchdowns, proves that.

Credit the Bulldogs, who played like their mascot. They ran the ball 48 times for 285 yards, dominating the game from late in the first half until the final whistle. The junior Fitzgerald looked sharp for the third straight game to open the season. Mississippi State has vaulted into the top-25 (No. 17), one of six ranked SEC teams.

Other notable performances:

Kentucky started slow but finished strong Saturday, earning a road win to open SEC play after two shaky non-conference performances. The Wildcats went to South Carolina and won 23-13. They overcame Mr. Momentum, South Carolina receiver Deebo Samuel, who started the game with a long touchdown catch. Samuel will miss an extended period of time after breaking a bone in his leg.

Vanderbilt is also 3-0 after a 14-7 win over a then-ranked Kansas State squad. The Commodores couldn’t run, the Wildcats couldn’t pass, and Vandy stopped a valiant scramble on fourth down to seal the victory.

If Jalen Hurts didn’t do much to prevent Alabama from winning last season, he’s doing a lot more to help them win this year. The sophomore quarterback needed just 12 completions to reach 248 yards (and two touchdowns) and ran for 103 yards and a score as the Tide beat visiting Colorado State 41-23.

Mississippi and Missouri had three turnovers each in losses to California and Purdue, respectively. The remaining schedule for Missouri is particularly tough.

The other SEC results (home team first): Texas A&M 45, Louisiana-Lafayette 21; Georgia 42, Samford 14; Auburn 24, Mercer 10; Arkansas (off)

This week

Biggest game: Mississippi State at Georgia

As discussed above, Mississippi State earned a win over a top-15 team last Saturday. Now, they must repeat the feat on the road. This battle of the Bulldogs, the first since 2011, should be a good one. Georgia handled Samford easily to improve to 3-0; it’s fair to assume freshman quarterback Jake Fromm will have to throw more than 13 times in order for Georgia to win.

Keep an eye on: Alabama at Vanderbilt; Texas A&M vs. Arkansas; Auburn at Missouri; Florida at Kentucky

Alabama has won 21 straight and 35 of the last 36 against Vanderbilt, last losing in 1984. Arkansas is coming off a bye and, like A&M, has a coach whose days at the school might be numbered; they’ll meet at JerryWorld. If Auburn can’t get its offense going against Missouri, what does Gus Malzahn do next? The Kentucky-Florida winner will assume the driver’s seat in the SEC East.

For the diehards: Massachusetts at Tennessee; Louisiana Tech at South Carolina; Syracuse at LSU; Mississippi (off)

Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about college football and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at andrewjkahn@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn

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