Game recap: UT vs. Florida
Tennessee Stat Book
As the teams waited for play to resume late in the fourth quarter, two Florida offensive linemen extended their hands to Tennessee defensive tackle Gerald Williams.
I can only guess what the handshakes meant with five minutes to play in a game that was going Florida's way.
Perhaps the Gators were thanking the Vols for their abundance of third-down defensive breakdowns as well as those crucial turnovers, which helped hand Florida a 31-17 victory Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
Or maybe the players had developed a respectful kinship for one another over the course of a game that indicated these programs aren't as far apart as they used to be.
Never mind that Florida is ranked No. 10 in the country. Or that UT has given up a total of 79 points in back-to-back home losses for the first time in school history.
One team looked just as inept as the other for much of the afternoon.
At Florida, which has won two of the last four national championships, that's cause for panic. At UT, which has lost 15 of its last 28 games, that's called progress - be it ever so slight.
Imagine what most Florida teams of the last couple of decades would have done to a UT team that threw two interceptions, lost a fumble, yielded six sacks, rushed for only 29 yards, and got duped on a fake punt. That's what 59-20 games are made of in a rivalry that has been dominated by the Gators.
Signs were pointing toward another runaway late in the third quarter when the Gators drove for touchdowns on consecutive possessions to take a two-touchdown lead. But these aren't your typical Gators. They aren't the Oregon Ducks, either.
Oregon scored 45 unanswered points in a 48-13 victory over UT a week earlier. Florida's offense is so fraught with glitches, 45 points is beyond it at this juncture.
UT's resilience also was a factor in minimizing Florida's surge. A week earlier, the Vols wilted when Oregon turned up the heat. They fought back against the Gators, cutting the lead to seven points early in the fourth quarter.
But don't make too much of that - for a couple of reasons.
Despite what the rankings might say, Florida hardly resembles a top-10 team. Its offense is stumbling around like you have rarely seen since Steve Spurrier got the Gators going in the early 1990s. And while their defense was seldom budged by UT's running game, it had flagrant breakdowns in the secondary, resulting in a couple of Matt Simms touchdown passes.
The Vols' shortcomings are even more apparent after the first two games. You knew going in about their limitations in talent, experience and depth. But their propensity for mistakes is just as much of an issue.
"We spit the ball out three times," UT coach Derek Dooley said of the turnovers. "We'll never win doing that."
He's right, of course. This team doesn't have enough talent to run away from the errors it committed against the Gators and in the second half against Oregon.
At times during the last two games, the Vols have played as though they could hold their own with most teams on their schedule. At other times, they have looked incapable of winning an SEC game.
That won't be a concern next Saturday. UAB, which is up next, is only a slight upgrade over UT Martin, which the Vols beat 50-0 in the season opener.
But after that comes four consecutive games against LSU, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.
UT can't beat any of those teams the way it played the last two games.
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John Adams may be reached at 865-342-6284.