Game recap: Florida 33, Tennessee 23
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tennessee knew what was coming all week.
Speedy Florida running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps were going to get the ball more than anyone else. When they got the ball, either via a traditional hand-off or through the air on a short screen pass, their eyes would immediately dart to the sidelines, where they hoped to sprint past would-be tacklers.
The Vols just couldn't stop it Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Rainey and Demps darted and dashed over the Vols for a combined 297 yards of offense — more than 85 percent of Florida's entire offensive output — to carry the Gators in their 33-23 victory. The big plays came in chunks and spurts and always seemed to occur at the worst time.
All the preparation the Vols could squeeze into a week's worth of practice wasn't enough.
"There were a lot of times we were in position, they just ran around us and outran us," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. "They did exactly what they thought they would do because they're good coaches.
"They're really good players. Rainey's a really good player and they do a good job using him the right way."
Tennessee Stat Book
Florida set the tone immediately, as it opened the game with three straight looks through the air to the senior duo. Before Florida quarterback John Brantley looked for a target other than Demps or Rainey, the Gators were in UT territory and poised to score.
In fact, the only thing they didn't do on the first possession was score, as Demps' 28-yard carry set up a 1-yard touchdown catch by Trey Burton that gave the Gators a lead they would never relinquish.
"To be able to have guys like Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, when you put the ball in their hands, they can score at any time," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "With (offensive coordinator) Charlie Weis' system we evaluate our talent and evaluate what we can do."
The big plays dampened an otherwise resilient effort by a Vols defense that was the victim of poor field position throughout the game because of atrocious special teams play. Florida's first two drives of the second quarter were played exclusively on the Vols' side of the field, but both ended with field goals.
It wasn't until three plays into the third defensive series, when Art Evans took Brantley down on a botched reverse 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage, that the Vols had the Gators in their own territory.
"We hung in there," Dooley said.
Two big plays doomed the defense in the third quarter. Accordingly, Rainey was at the center of both of them, and the Vols' mistakes made a bad situation even worse.
Following a Tyler Bray interception on the first play of the second half, Rainey, on the second play of the Gators' possession, ran 14 yards down the sideline for a first down. The Vols gave him and the Gators 15 more, as safety Brent Brewer, flying from the opposite side of the field, grabbed Rainey's facemask before bringing him down.
The drive ended in a touchdown, but only after the Vols held steady for three consecutive plays inside the 10-yard line.
The biggest blow came on the very next drive, as Rainey took a screen pass with no one around him and ran 83 yards for a backbreaking touchdown that put the Gators up, 30-7.
The Vols simply had no room for error because of the duo's speed, which Dooley used phrases such as "Olympic-like" and "like a cannon" to draw up comparisons.
"I felt like our game plan was really strong," linebacker Austin Johnson said. "We just had some missed tackles and some missed assignments. We just got to make sure we eliminate those."
There isn't a tandem like Demps and Rainey left on the Vols' schedule, but their impact will resonate through the bye week and into the Oct. 1 game against Buffalo.
"We just got to watch the film and learn from our mistakes," Johnson said. "We've got to keep working and just come together as a group."