Gators have excelled late in the first half, early in the second

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports
Kadarius Toney's 50-yard punt return for a touchdown swung the momentum in Florida's favor Saturday and shut the door on Kentucky's upset bid during the Gators' 34-10 win.

 Basketball coaches often stress the importance of the last few minutes of the first half and the first few minutes of the second. It’s a critical time where games can be altered and sometimes even won or lost.

 The same goes for football, especially for the Florida Gators this fall. The way they’ve closed second quarters and opened third quarters has been critical to their success.

 In five of the six games where UF has won the coin toss and deferred, the Gators scored in the final seconds of the first half, then come back and scored on the opening possession of the second half.

 This is one of the reasons the Gators are 7-1, ranked No. 5 in the nation and have a chance to clinch the SEC East title Saturday at Tennessee.

 “It does create a lot of momentum (when you score at the end of the first half), especially if we’re getting the ball back in the second half,” quarterback Kyle Trask said. “It gives us a chance to go two-for-one and really take that jump in the lead.”

 That’s the way it’s been playing out all season.

 Here’s a look at the five games, all victories, where the Gators have scored at the end of the first half and the start of the second:

 Ole Miss — With the Gators leading only 21-14 in the second quarter, Trask threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Pitts with only five seconds left in the half. Then, in the opening minute of the second half, Trask and Pitts hooked up again for a touchdown, this one covering 71 yards. Just like that, it went from a seven-point lead to a 35-14 game, with the Gators in control.

 Missouri — The Gators struggled for most of the first half and found themselves leading only 13-7 late in the second quarter. Then the game was dramatically changed by one player — wide receiver Kadarius Toney. He caught a 30-yard touchdown pass with 1:08 left in the first half, then ran 16 yards for a TD on the opening possession of the second half to put the Gators in command 27-7.

 Georgia — A 10-point Florida lead (31-21) grew to 17 when Trevon Grimes shocked the Bulldogs with a leaping 14-yard touchdown pass with just 11 seconds left in the first half. The opening possession of the second half ended with a 51-yard field goal by Evan McPherson that put the Gators up 41-21.

 Vanderbilt — The Gators struggled through much of the first half and found themselves tied with the winless Commodores 10-10 late in the second quarter. But with just 49 seconds left in the half, Trask threw a 34-yard TD pass to Grimes to give UF the lead. The Gators made it a two-touchdown advantage on the opening possession of second half on a 1-yard TD run by Dameon Pierce.

 Kentucky — Again, the Gators got off to a sluggish start on both sides of the ball and found themselves trailing 10-7 with less than a minute to play in the first half. After the defense got a stop, forcing the Wildcats to punt from deep inside their own territory, Toney changed the tenor of the game with a 50-yard punt return for a touchdown with just 42 seconds left in the half. The sudden momentum change carried over to the second half, with Trask throwing a 2-yard TD pass to Pitts on the opening possession to put UF in command 21-10.

 Score late in the first half, early in the second. It’s been a winning formula for the Gators throughout the season.

 UF coach Dan Mullen said it’s all about being aware and understanding situations and executing at those crucial times.

 “It’s situational football. We spent a lot of time on it during the year,” Mullen said. “How you’re doing in end-of-half, the last two to three minutes, is situational football. First four minutes of the second half, huge situation time.

 “All the different situational things in the game we spend a lot of time on. Our guys understand that and it’s a lot of team focus. You look at all the games, close, tight games, and how important that is.”

Saturday

Who: No. 5 Florida (7-1) at Tennessee (2-5)

When: 3:30 p.m. 

TV: CBS

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850