John Kelly

Associated Press

Last second Hail Mary lifts No. 24 Florida past No. 23 Tennessee

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A defensive struggle turned into anything but, as a 63-yard rainbow from Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland as time expired lifted No. 24 Florida to a 26-20 win over No. 23 Tennessee. The win is Florida’s (1-1, 1-0 SEC) 12th win over Tennessee (2-1, 0-1 SEC) in their last 13 meetings.

After Florida took a 6-3 lead into the locker roomC.J. Henderson gave Florida complete control when he snared a tipped Quentin Dormady pass and returned it an easy 16 yards for a touchdown, Florida’s third pick-six of the season — which, to that point, accounted for the Gators’ only touchdowns of the season.

Malik Davis briefly put the offense on the board when he streaked 74 yards down the left side of the field to give the Gators a 20-3 lead with 10:45 remaining in the game. But Davis lost the ball out of the back of the end zone as he crossed the goal line, and the touchdown was turned into a touchback upon review.

Given new life, Tennessee made the most of its extra chance, racing 80 yards in five plays, mostly on the legs of John Kelly, including a 34-yard burst that pulled the Vols to within 13-10 with 8:36 remaining. Kelly celebrated the score with a defiant Gator chomp in the end zone, which rewarded by the officials with an excessive celebration flag.

Tyrie Cleveland returned the ensuing short kickoff 46 yards to the Tennessee 44, sparking the Gators to a 7-play, 44-yard drive that ended in the club’s first offensive touchdown of the season, a 5-yard toss from Feleipe Franks to Brandon Powell with 5:13 to play.

Ignited by their previous touchdown drive — and aided by a winded Florida defense — Tennessee needed only two snaps to move 75 yards for another touchdown. A 52-yard catch-and-run by Kelly set up a 28-yard touchdown pass from Dormady to tight end Ethan Wolf to pull the Vols within 20-17 with 4:43 to play.

Two snaps after that, Tennessee’s defense returned the favor as Rashaan Gaulden snared a tipped Franks pass at the Florida 40. The Vols moved the ball 31 yards to the Florida 9-yard line, but the drive stalled there and Aaron Medley knocked in a 27-yard field goal to tie the game with 50 seconds to play. Medley’s boot also ended a streak of three consecutive missed field goals by he and Brent Cimaglia.

Florida appeared content to sit on the ball until overtime, but Jim McElwain called timeout with nine seconds remaining at his own 37. After scrambling in his own backfield, Franks raced toward the line of scrimmage and threw it as far as he could, where the ball found Cleveland, unmolested in the end zone. He would not be touched until he was mauled by his celebrating teammates.

Franks finished the game 18-of-28 for 212 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, while Davis led the Gators with 94 yards on four carries. Dormady hit 21-of-39 passes for 259 yards with a touchdown and three interception, and Kelly led both teams on the ground and through the air, rushing 19 times for 141 yards and a touchdown and catching six balls for 96 yards.

 

Tennessee and Florida locked in a defensive struggle

Associated Press
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Florida holds a 6-3 lead over Tennessee halfway through a game that’s been about as pretty as the overcast skies above Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

The Gators accepted the ball to open the game and put together the best offensive drive of their young season, consuming nearly half the first quarter on a 15-play march. But a pair of procedure penalties forced a field goal try on a possession in which the Gators actually gained 15 yards, and Eddy Piniero‘s 27-yard boot put Florida on the board.

Tennessee moved into Florida territory on its first possession, but the drive ended scoreless when David Reese intercepted Quinten Dormady‘s third down pass. The sides traded punts over the next four possessions before Florida moved 32 yards to set up another Piniero field goal, this one from 41 yards out at the 8:11 mark of the second quarter.

Tennessee answered with its only points of the half, a 12-play drive that took 5:13 off the clock and ended in a Brent Cimaglia kick from 51 yards out. 

Johnny Townsend punt out of bounds at the Tennessee 26-yard line with 23 seconds left in the half seemingly doomed the Vols to a 6-3 halftime deficit, but John Kelly raced 37 yards on an inside handoff on the following play, putting the Vols at the Gators’ 37 with 13 ticks remaining. Tennessee moved in position for Cimaglia to knot the score with a 47-yard field goal on the final play of the half, but his attempt hooked wide right.

Dormady has completed only 10-of-18 passes for 83 yards with an interception, and John Kelly and Ty Chandler have mustered 52 rushing yards between them, with 37 coming on one run and 15 on their other nine combined carries.

Making his first home start, Feleipe Franks has put together a solid-but-unspectacular effort, hitting 11-of-18 throws for 106 yards. Florida has rushed for 35 yards on 17 credited carries.

Tennessee will receive to open the second half.

Late rally, goal line stand pushes No. 25 Tennessee past Georgia Tech in double OT

Associated Press
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Tennessee had defended 86 Georgia Tech runs on the night, the vast majority of them poorly. So what chance did the Volunteers have, facing a do-or-die 2-point conversion, clinging to a 42-41 lead in double overtime, of stopping the 87th run?

Somehow, some way, No. 25 Tennessee found a way to corral Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall at the line of scrimmage and secure a victory that seemed impossible just minutes prior.

Georgia Tech spent most of the evening with its offense on the field, trampling a Tennessee defense that spent six months preparing for an offense it had no chance of stopping. Making his first career start, Marshall set Georgia Tech quarterback records by carrying an astounding 44 times for 249 yards and five touchdowns, spearheading a Yellow Jackets offense that totaled 535 yards and six scores on a steady 6.2 yards per carry. The Jackets led 14-7 at halftime, accepted the ball to open the second half and promptly took complete control of the game with an 11-play, 80-yard drive that consumed nearly six minutes — nearly 20 percent of the available game time to that point.

After Tennessee (1-0) found pay dirt to pull within 21-14, Georgia Tech (0-1) again traversed the length of the field, moving 75 yards in a brief — for them — two minutes and 34 seconds, as a 6-yard Marshall run gave the Jackets a 28-14 lead with 13:08 remaining in the game.

But it was after that point, when much of the Big Orange faithful had had enough and departed Mercedes-Benz Stadium, that the Tennessee offense refused to be stopped — particularly wide receiver Marquez Callaway and running back John Kelly. Callaway pulled Tennessee back within 28-21 after breaking a tackle and streaking 50 yards for a touchdown.

Still, Georgia Tech had a chance to put the game away with another methodical drive and appeared ready to do just that when J.J. Green slashed and dashed for a 36-yard gain to the Tennessee 7-yard line as the clock slunk below five minutes to play, but Rashaan Gaulden raced from behind to poke the ball free and Micah Abernathy hopped on it for the Vols. Tennessee needed seven plays to move the required 93 yards, with six of those plays and 87 of those yards coming from either Callaway or Kelly. Kelly (19 carries for 128 yards and four touchdowns, with five grabs for 35 yards) touched it five times for 35 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown run, and Callaway (four grabs for 115 yards and two scores) caught a 40-yard bomb in double coverage. The combination of Callaway and Kelly carried another first-time starting quarterback in Quentin Dormady, who completed 20-of-37 throws for 221 yards and two touchdowns, but was much less efficient than this numbers showed when not throwing to Callaway or Kelly.

With the score now tied for the first time in the game, Georgia Tech had a second chance to put it away, moving 56 yards in 1:26 to set up a 37-yard field goal try for Shawn Davis. After his first attempt sailed far wide left, Davis’s second try was blocked.

With each defense appropriately gassed and disheartened, the two offense took turns slicing through their counterparts in overtime: Georgia Tech opened by scoring in five plays, and Tennessee answered in three. The Volunteers scored in three plays again at the top of the second frame, and Georgia Tech answered in four. Sensing his defense had no chance to stop Tennessee in the third overtime or in perpetuity, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson put his offense back on the field to win it in double overtime. It felt like the right call at the time and still does now — in all, Georgia Tech converted 13-of-18 third downs, achieved 33 first downs to Tennessee’s 18 and possessed the ball for 41:27 — but Tennessee came up with its only stop of the night, the only one it needed.

 

Georgia Tech leading Tennessee at the half in Atlanta

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In a game that has matched every bit of the passion and pageantry of its Saturday night predecessor, Georgia Tech owns a 14-7 lead over Tennessee at the half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The Yellow Jackets have owned the box score more than the scoreboard, forcing Tennessee into a Georgia Tech-styled half. After going three-and-out on its first two possessions, Georgia Tech strung together three consecutive lengthy drives to close the half. The first traveled 86 yards in 12 plays, happily consuming 6:51 of the clock, to put the Ramblin’ Wreck on the board first with a 1-yard TaQuon Marshall plunge with six seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Georgia Tech’s next drive moved 38 yards before a Marshall fumble, and its third possession made up for that miscue with a 16-play, 75-yard drive that ate another seven minutes of clock time, this time ending in a 1-yard KirVonte Benson run.

In all, Georgia Tech has registered 39 runs for 167 yards and two touchdowns while converting an astounding 8-of-11 third downs, which allowed the Yellow Jackets’ offense to stay on the field for 21:10 of the first 30 minutes.

As a result, Tennessee has been unable to establish a rhythm for first-time starting quarterback Quentin Dormady. The Vols ran the ball only eight times in the half, forcing Dormady to throw 20 times, completing eight for just 52 yards. Tennessee’s scoring drive came after the Marshall fumble, moving 46 yards in eight snaps to set up a 1-yard John Kelly run that tied the game at the 8:11 mark of the second quarter.

Georgia Tech will receive to open the second half.

CFT 2017 Preseason Preview: The SEC

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The last few years have had a common theme in the SEC. Namely that the league has turned into mighty Alabama and 13 other mediocre programs. Despite the issues of breaking through and developing multiple elite teams as of late, there’s reason for optimism around the conference that things will be a lot different this time around.

Key to that could be the return of so many budding young quarterbacks at just about every school from East to West. Add in a few top-flight tailbacks like Georgia’s Nick Chubb, LSU’s Derrius Guice plus Alabama’s Bo Scarbrough — to say nothing of the elite defensive talent across the board — and you can see why there’s talk of the bunched up middle class of teams breaking out of this recent rut.

How will things shape up in the mighty SEC? Here’s a look at the conference heading into the 2017 campaign and how things should shake out:

EAST
1. Georgia (8-5 overall, 4-4 in SEC last season):
 We’ve seen new head coaches turn in some surprising jumps in their second year at a program and many expect that to be the case with Kirby Smart in Athens. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise given the weapons on offense and a two-deep on defense that is the envy of everybody but Alabama. If the Bulldogs can become more consistent and eliminate mental errors that plagued them in 2016, a run to Atlanta appears in the cards.

2. Florida (9-4, 6-2 last season): The Gators have taken advantage of the division’s weakness the past two years but will need to step up their game if they want a third straight trip to the league title game. The offensive line will be a strength for the squad and just about everybody expects improved quarterback play with Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire likely starting under center. If the defense can quickly replace a number of key starters, the division may once again come down to the winner of the World’s Largest Cocktail Party between Florida and Georgia.

3. Tennessee (9-4, 4-4 last season): Despite winning nine games back-to-back for the first time in a decade, Butch Jones enters 2017 on the hot seat for a fan base that is looking for at least a division title (and probably a whole lot more). Expectations are tempered a little by the number of new starters on both sides of the ball but there’s enough to build around — such as tailback John Kelly — that the Vols should remain in contention down the stretch.

4. South Carolina (6-7, 3-5 last season): The Gamecocks surprised many by reaching a bowl game in 2016 despite a remarkable youth movement across the board at just about every position. QB Jake Bentley’s play proved to be a key catalyst once he was inserted into the lineup and there’s reason for optimism in Columbia that things will only get better after another offseason under Will Muschamp and company.

5. Vanderbilt (6-7, 3-5 last season): Success can be a fleeting thing for the Commodores but there’s plenty of hope around Nashville that the program’s trajectory is looking up after a strong close to last season unexpectedly put the team in a bowl game. Derek Mason has one of, if not the, most experienced teams coming back in the division and if the offense can improve even a little they could be a tough out in SEC play.

6. Kentucky (7-6, 4-4 last season): There are plenty of teams that are a preseason enigma but Mark Stoops’ side runs the entire gamut of predictions about how things will play out this year.  There is enough to like about the Wildcats both offensively and defensively but one has to question if that will be enough in such a competitive league with few openings to move up.

7. Missouri (4-8, 2-6 last season): One of the bigger surprises in the East was just how far the Tigers slid on defense, going from a normally stingy unit to lackluster at best in Barry Odom’s first year on the job. While the offense took the requisite steps to be more than passable, Mizzou’s future will be tied to an improvement on the other side of the ball.

WEST

1. Alabama (14-1 overall, 8-0 last season): There’s no reason to expect anything other than a dominant Crimson Tide team to take the field once again, running through the SEC before eventually moving on to the College Football Playoff. There are five-stars all over the two-deep once again and the offense might be one of the best the team has had in a while if youngsters continue to develop.

2. Auburn (8-5, 5-3 last season): Injuries played a big role in the disjointed season the Tigers had a year ago but that likely played a role in developing depth for a promising 2017 on the Plains. Gus Malzahn turned a transfer QB into a Heisman winner before and there’s plenty of hope that he can do so again with Jarrett Stidham running the show under center this time around.

3. LSU (8-4, 5-3 last season): The Ed Orgeron show continues in Baton Rouge and spirits are running high that this will finally — finally! — be the year the Tigers are competent on offense with new coordinator Matt Canada calling plays. Derrius Guice and Arden Key will be the headliners but there’s plenty of talent on the roster to take this team into Tuscaloosa with a fighting chance to win the division.

4. Texas A&M (8-5, 4-4 last season): There are few things more certain in college football than the Aggies getting off to a hot start before losing to Alabama and seeing their season backslide into an 8-5 year. Things look much the same for Kevin Sumlin again in College Station as he retools the offense with yet another new quarterback.

5. Mississippi State (6-7, 3-5 last season): It seems like we’ve talked about the Bulldogs being a dark horse for the past several years and the team will once again channel that heading into 2017. Nick Fitzgerald is already one of the better dual-threat QB’s in the conference and if gains can be made on defense, MSU will certainly surprise a few teams in the West.

6. Arkansas (7-6, 3-5 last season): The Hogs look like they’re a little better suited to contend in 2018 but a strong backfield to build around offensively will keep the team in just about every game on the schedule this season. If the defense takes another step, knocking off one of the big division rivals could certainly be in the cards.

7. Ole Miss (5-7, 2-6 last season): It’s possible the Rebels, backs firmly against the wall, take an us-against-them attitude and go wild behind talented sophomore QB Shea Patterson. Odds don’t favor that though, as this team has less talent than the one that won just two SEC games and could give up on the year with an interim head coach and even more NCAA sanctions looming on the horizon.