Gators honor their greatest fan, then put on a show in SEC tuneup
Florida paid a stirring Swamp tribute to its greatest fan before the game, then put on a performance Mr. Two Bits would be proud of during the game, crushing overmatched Tennessee-Martin 45-0.
Florida’s greatest fan, George Edmonson, known around the SEC and college football simply as Mr. Two Bits, passed away this summer after a well-lived 96 years. Edmonson attended his first Gators game in 1949, when, watching a hapless Gators team flail around against The Citadel, he made up the “Two-Bits, Four-Bits, Six-Bits, a Dollar. All for the Gators, Stand Up and holler!” cheer to boost fan morale.
He kept coming to games for the next 70 years, leading the cheer in the stands and later on the field as it eventually became part of the fabric of the SEC and college football. Florida honored Mr. Two Bits before the game with a touching tribute video and by having various members of his surviving family lead the crowd in the famed Two Bits cheer before kickoff.
When Florida’s home opener finally kicked off, the Gators played mostly as well as they should against an overmatched FCS opponent. They imposed their will defensively and used explosive plays to stretch what was a 3-0 game after a quarter into a comfortable 31-point margin by the third quarter.
Feleipe Franks was particularly sharp, connecting on all 15 of his throws for 183 yards and 2 touchdowns in the opening half. His best throw of all was this surgical deep strike to Van Jefferson — which showed the deep ball accuracy improvement Franks invested so much time in this summer.
— Overtime Heroics (@OTHeroics1) September 8, 2019
By the time Franks was repalced by Kyle Trask in the fourth quarter, Franks had connected on an astoundingly accurate 25 of 27 passes for 270 yards, and added 37 yards on the ground in a calm, confidence-infusing performance.
While Florida’s offense relied heavily on explosive plays to find the end zone, the Gators defense continued to dominate. Again, this was expected against a smaller, FCS offensive line like Tennessee-Martin, but even with Skyhawks coach Jason Simpson using a variety of motions, rollouts and screen passes to keep the Gators on their heels, Florida made its presence felt in the their backfield.
There weren’t 10 sacks and 16 tackles for loss like we saw in the Week 0 win over Miami, but the tackling was crisp and the Gators did manage 5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss Saturday night, holding the Skyhawks offense to just 194 yards. Florida also limited UT-Martin to 5-for-14 on third-down conversions and snuffed out UT-Martin’s best drive of the night with a red zone interception by freshman Kaair Elam.
All told, it was a terrific performance for a Florida defense that continues to be the heartbeat of the football program.
There were other fun moments as well. Tyrie Cleveland, who fought back from a broken collarbone late last season, found the end zone on a big play late in the first half. Redshirt freshman running back Iverson Clement broke a few ankles on a 41-yard touchdown run late. Trask connected with Jacob Copeland for a touchdown,his first as a Gator. Quarterback Emory Jones collected his first collegiate rushing touchdown, and the feeling around the program is there will be many more.
But a mostly festive, feel-good night in The Swamp wasn’t without heartache and adversity for the Gators.
Junior wide receiver Kadarius Toney suffered a wrist injury in the first quarter and left the game, a tough loss for a Florida offense that needs his explosiveness and versatility to keep defenses guessing and honest. Safety Shawn Davis also hobbled off and went into the Florida injury tent. The extent of his injury is unknown, but if he misses time and starting free safety Brad Stewart is still suspended, Florida could potentially be down to only three scholarship safeties (Donovan Stiner, Jeawon Taylor, Quincy Lenton) ahead of the Kentucky game.
Even more concerning was the second quarter injury to All-American cornerback CJ Henderson.
In truth, it was a classic Henderson play. A Florida safety blew a coverage a bit and Henderson used his exceptional recovery speed to make a play on the ball. Henderson got his legs trapped landing on the play and limped off the field with assistance from trainers. He went straight to the Florida locker room and when he returned to the field, he was on crutches and wearing a boot on his left foot.
Florida coach Dan Mullen said after the game that Henderson’s injury is a sprain, which beats the alternatives and is undoubtedly good news given how the injury looked. That said, any lost time for Henderson is a significant setback for this defense. Put plainly, Henderson is Florida’s best football player, one of the best cover corners in America and a player you have to game plan around.
Without Henderson, a thin Gators secondary places substantial demands on freshmen like Elam and Jaydon Hill, who, while talented, haven’t seen the likes of what awaits them in the SEC battles ahead.
Injuries are always tough, but they sometimes sting more in “filler” games like this one, where little is at stake beyond repetitions and the chance to shine in front of the home crowd. For Florida, these are difficult pieces of adversity to grapple with ahead of a tough conference opener against Kentucky at Kroger Field in Lexington next Saturday night.
But those worries can wait for another day.
Saturday night was for the fans. Most of all, it was for Florida’s greatest fan, Mr. Two Bits. This will be the first season in nearly 70 years without the Gators’ most vocal cheerleader in The Swamp to cheer them on, win or lose.
No matter. Edmonson may be gone and missed, but his spirit will forever roam the Swamp.
In all kinds of weather.