Audio slide show of Tennessee-Florida
Audio slideshow UT-UF
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Tennessee didn't spend all night singing "Rocky Top," as new coach Lane Kiffin predicted last winter.
On the other hand Florida didn't spend all night celebrating an anticipated rout, either. Because it never happened.
The No. 1-ranked Gators earned their victory, 23-13. But they didn't get the pound of orange flesh from the 29-point-underdog Vols they wanted as well.
"A lot of people said they were supposed to put 62 on us, or whatever else, but we weren't having too much of that,'' said UT defensive end Chris Walker.
"I think a lot of people saw Tennessee for what they really are today.''
That the Vols (1-2, 0-1 SEC) managed to forego the predicted embarrassment disappointed a Florida Field record throng of 90,894 eager to see the Gators (3-0, 1-0) retaliate for several inflammatory remarks from Kiffin in the first months of his tenure at UT.
Instead, the crowd and a national CBS audience saw a pretty competitive game.
"I'm proud of how we played,'' said Kiffin, "very tough, very physical and very smart.
"But all that said, we lost a game that we had a very good chance to win.
"I didn't come down here to cover the spread or have a moral victory.''
Florida's victory was real, not moral.
"I think we could have played better,'' said coach Urban Meyer.
"I don't want to take anything away or disrespect our opponent. They have some talented athletes and this is SEC football.
"But . . . we missed a lot of tackles.''
The Gators never trailed but managed only 323 yards of offense. UT countered with a modest 210 yards.
When Florida appeared to be poised to tack on a comfort-margin score in the fourth quarter, the Vols produced a huge momentum swing.
With the Gators up 23-6 and the crowd sensing the rout might finally be building after all, quarterback Tim Tebow fumbled at the UT 2 when he tried to stretch toward the goal line.
"That was me being selfish,'' he said.
And that was UT's Dennis Rogan being resourceful.
Rogan scooped up the fumble and ripped off a 35-yard return that jump-started Tennessee's stagnant offense.
The Vols had managed only a pair of Daniel Lincoln field goals in the first half and then went flat-line in the second half, scratching out only 9 yards in the third quarter.
But after Rogan's heads-up play, Montario Hardesty capped a 63-yard drive with a hard-charging 17-yard touchdown run.
That left it a very un-routish 23-13 with 8:11 left.
Tennessee's defense then forced Florida's only punt of the day after a three-and-out possession. The Vols took over with 6:01 to play.
But they weren't up to any miracles.
Gator safety Ahmad Black intercepted a Jonathan Crompton pass with 1:51 to play, after which Meyer was content to let the clock run out.
Tebow, who accounted for 115 yards passing and 76 rushing, scored on a 1-yard run in the first half. Jeff Demps got Florida's other TD on a 7-yard dash in the third quarter.
Tebow had nothing but praise for the Vols, who came in with the third-ranked defense in the nation.
"They did so many different things and did them well,'' Tebow said. "Lane did a good job and (defensive coordinator) Monte (Kiffin) did a good job of scheming up the things we do.''
Part of Lane's scheming, he offered, was taking the heat off his team. For sure, he and his infamous oratory were the target of virtually all the media attention.
"I think it worked perfect,'' Kiffin said. "You come in and play the number-one team in the country in your third game together, you don't want the pressure on your players.
"Put the pressure on me.''
If the media had been happy to oblige, so was a hostile crowd.
"There were a lot of 'F' words that weren't 'Florida' being yelled at me on the ride in,'' Kiffin said.
Once the game kicked off, Florida took a 3-0 lead on the first of three Caleb Sturgis field goals.
The Vols answered with an impressive 15-play drive that died at the Florida 7. Lincoln's 24-yard boot tied the score.
Tebow turned battering ram on Florida's next drive, carrying four consecutive times to finish a 72-yard drive with a TD for a 10-3 lead.
The Vols soon caught - or made, rather - a break.
Eric Berry's diving interception off Tebow handed UT a first down at the Florida 20. Hardesty ran it for first-and-goal at the 4.
But, shades of UCLA last week, the Vols couldn't get in the end zone and settled for a second Lincoln field goal.
Sturgis made it 13-6 with another field goal just before the half ended.
UT's third-quarter problems began with a Crompton interception on the third play. Joe Haden picked off the underthrown ball and the Gators drove for another Sturgis field goal.
At that point it seemed the projected beat-down might be fizzling into a kick-down.
But the Gators gave their fans something to chomp about with a 13-play drive that climaxed with Demps' touchdown for a 23-6 lead.
That's where the fourth quarter began. But the Vols would still be heard from.
"A lot of teams,'' said Kiffin, "come in this stadium and eventually the talent gets to you.
"You get to the fourth quarter and they wear you down. Our guys didn't do that.''
"At the end of the day,'' said Florida defensive back Haden, "we got the win.
"They played a lot better than they played on film.''