With the Gators and Vols getting ready to tee it up again Saturday, it is inevitable that the tape of the final play from last year’s Florida-Tennessee game is going to be played over and over this week.
It was one of the most memorable (and remarkable) plays in college football last season — Feleipe Franks’ 63-yard touchdown pass to Tyrie Cleveland on a Hail Mary to give the Gators a stunning 26-20 victory in The Swamp.
The main players involved in that play are back on both sides, but there are new head coaches for both schools in Dan Mullen and UT’s Jeremy Pruitt.
Mullen has gone out of his way not to look at tapes of Florida’s games from last season so as not to prejudge any of the players he was inheriting.
But he has seen the play several times. And he has seen the replay of the game on the SEC Network.
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And he has two takes about that final play.
“(Franks) can throw the ball really far,” Mullen said Monday. “Interesting deal with the timeframe because on the play call to the right he’s trying to throw along the sidelines. I didn’t know if there’d be enough time really to do that. But pretty cool looking play.”
That’s Mullen’s first take.
His second is that the Gators should have never been in a position to have to make that play to win the game.
UF had gone up 20-10 with just 5:13 left in the game on a 5-yard TD pass from Franks to Brandon Powell. But the Gators failed to make the lead hold up.
UT scored a quick touchdown, the Florida offense quickly stalled and the Vols then tied the game with a 27-yard field goal with only 50 seconds left in the game.
“I did see a replay on the game. Weren’t we winning by like two scores?” Mullen said. “That stuck out to me. I was like, ‘Why did we need to throw a Hail Mary. With four minutes left in the game, we were up two scores. Let’s finish the game off.”
Mullen delivered that very message to his players earlier this summer after he’d just watched the game.
“That was kind of my talk about it to our guys,” he said. “I was like, ‘Why didn’t we finish the game off on offense? Why didn’t we get first downs and put them away? Get that mindset of we’ve got the lead, finish it off.’ ”
As of Monday, Mullen had not repeated his message to the team. But, at some point, he likely will because that play is going to be replayed over and over this week.
“Obviously the point of emphasis is don’t get in that situation,” junior wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “Put the game away when you have the chance and you don’t have to worry about throwing Hail Mary’s to win the game.”
The Gators certainly would like to avoid that situation if they’re up on the Vols in the fourth quarter Saturday night. But if they have to make a last-second play to win the game, then go make it. They know they can after what happened a year ago.
“He has mentioned (the play) before,” Franks said. “There are couple of things we could have done a little better and kept the score up and not been in that predicament. But we were put in that predicament and we finished, so it’s a good thing.”
The play is the biggest in Franks’ young career, one that he will always remember. But he says he’s not thinking about it this week.
“That’s not even really on my mind,” he said. “We’re just trying to focus on our game plan that we’re going to have for this coming week and just working hard with our guys and being ready to play. A whole other year, a whole other game. It will be fun and exciting to get out there to an away game, too.”