SEC suspends 4 players involved in Florida-Tennessee fisticuffs

The end of Saturday night’s Tennessee vs. Florida game included some fisticuffs, and the SEC has handed down multiple suspensions as a result.

The conference office announced Monday that three Florida players and one Tennessee player will be suspended for the first half of their upcoming games. For Florida, offensive linemen Damieon George and Micah Mazzccua and tight end Dante Zanders will be suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game vs. Charlotte in Gainesville. On the Tennessee side, it will be defensive lineman Omarr Norman-Lott who is suspended for the first half of the Vols' home game vs. UTSA.

The suspensions, which were assessed after a video review from the conference office, stem from a fracas that occurred in the final seconds of Florida’s 29-16 win in The Swamp.

Florida had the game in hand and was trying to run out the final seconds when Tennessee coach Josh Heupel called timeout with nine seconds to go with Florida facing a fourth down. Even facing a two-score deficit, Heupel said after the game he was hoping to get the ball back another time and “take a shot at the end zone.”

Florida kept its offense on the field and snapped the ball to Graham Mertz. Mertz didn’t take a knee right away as he tried to let the final seconds tick off the clock in regulation, prompting a hit from Tennessee’s Omari Thomas as Mertz was going down to the turf.

From there, things got chippy with multiple punches thrown. There were also multiple flags on the play, including a targeting called on Thomas. The SEC said the four players who were given suspensions engaged in “flagrant unsportsmanlike actions.”

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 16: Damieon George Jr. #76 of the Florida Gators celebrates after a game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 16, 2023 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Damieon George is one of three Gators who will miss the first half of Saturday's game vs. Charlotte. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

"That sequence right there, we are trying to get the ball back," Heupel said. "We’re trying to take a shot at the end zone. I don't know if you're going to have enough time for an onside kick and maybe get it and get a shot back. But you are trying to finish and compete the right way. [Mertz] is dancing around. Do you want the targeting? Obviously not. But the guy is dancing around, so you got to go tackle the guy, too. Do we want to be composed in that situation and all situations? Absolutely."

Tennessee fell from No. 11 to No. 23 in the rankings with the loss. Florida, which was previously unranked, is now No. 25. Both teams are 2-1 on the year.