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Friday, December 02, 2022
<p><span id="docs-internal-guid-9ede96b4-7fff-c775-fea5-d85b77652389"><span>Tight end R.J. Raymond said he eschewed his usual quiet tendencies after Saturday's 38-17 loss to Missouri. "You gotta play for so much more," he said.</span></span></p>

Tight end R.J. Raymond said he eschewed his usual quiet tendencies after Saturday's 38-17 loss to Missouri. "You gotta play for so much more," he said.

Florida tight end R.J. Raymond was a man deep in his thoughts. He strolled silently onto the field at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, about half an hour before any other Gators — even the special-teamers — made their way out of the locker room to get some extra catches in before the game.

It was a strange sight to behold. This is a man who, despite having a couple of targets this season, had not recorded a catch in his five years at Florida. It was odd because this Gators offense does not look to its tight ends often.

But there he was, a couple of hours before kickoff. Catch. Toss back. Catch. Toss back. Et cetera.

“That’s just who he is as a person,” linebacker David Reese said.

It was as if Raymond had it all planned out.  You may remember seeing his diving catch in the end zone, even if you can’t clearly see it in your memory bank among all the scoring in this game against Tennessee.

The good fortune didn’t stop with Raymond. It all broke Florida’s way in its most lopsided victory over the Volunteers since 2007.

Raymond’s preparation mirrored the steps the Gators took to ensure their most impressive win this season. Coach Dan Mullen, who blasted “Rocky Top” at his offense all week leading up to the matchup, said he barely heard it all game. Unofficial accounts stated “Rocky Top” played just about a dozen times on Saturday.

“That was the goal,” Mullen said. “We played it enough, we played it a lot at practice this week.”

Reese, one of the outspoken leaders on the Gators’ defense, made his debut after missing the team’s first three games with an ankle injury. He said the time he spent recovering from the injury put the game into a new perspective for him.

“I was sad,” Reese said. “But then I really got to reflect on the position I was in and the leadership opportunity that I had to reach out to the other guys like James Houston, Ventrell Miller, guys that we’re gonna depend on later on.”

Reese didn’t have to wait long to factor into the defensive playmaking. He made the opening tackle on UF’s first defensive series. A few plays later, he came away with a fumble recovery off a strip-sack of UT quarterback Jarrett Guarantano to set up Raymond’s score.

“When Jachai Polite makes hustle plays like that, and you’re just hustling to the quarterback also, some things just kind of pop into your hands,” Reese said.

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However, the play that Mullen said changed the game the most in Florida’s favor was C.J. Henderson’s forced fumble into the endzone on Tennessee tight end Austin Pope in the second quarter. Henderson jarred the ball loose just as Pope was about to score UT’s opening touchdown after running nearly the width of the field to catch up to the streaking Volunteer.

“We had done that on a couple of scrimmages, running down to make a play,” Henderson said. “I think I did it a couple of times, and it just translated to the game.”

Simply put, the Gators prepared for the success they achieved. Whether that success was warranted is another debate, but the result is what matters to Florida.

“I thought we had a good week of practice, thought they had good preparation, but never been around them to see how they’re gonna handle the environment,” Mullen said. “They rose to the occasion.”

 

You follow Morgan McMullen on Twitter @MorganMcMuffin or contact him at mmcullen@alligator.org.

Tight end R.J. Raymond said he eschewed his usual quiet tendencies after Saturday's 38-17 loss to Missouri. "You gotta play for so much more," he said.

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