GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida was more accommodating than dominating Saturday afternoon in The Swamp. And it still beat Tennessee 33-23.
What does that tell you?
It tells you the Gators can lose 150 yards in penalties, fumble the ball over to UT on their 17-yard line, fall all over themselves inside the Vols' 20 and still win their seventh consecutive game in the series.
Better Florida teams than this one would have put the Vols away in the first half. Instead, despite all of UT's deficiencies, it was still within striking distance late in the third quarter.
What happened next should have surprised no one: UT center James Stone snapped a groundball to quarterback Tyler Bray, who recovered for a 13-yard loss. That was a new low for Stone, who repeatedly left the 6-foot-6 Bray reaching below his knees for the ball.
The Vols struggled to execute something as rudimentary as the center snap. That's how bad it was.
The only thing worse than UT's deep snap was its running game. After struggling through two lopsided victories to open the season, it took another step against the Gators. It went backward.
Running backs Tauren Poole and Marlin Lane carried 14 times for 27 yards. The Vols finished with a net minus-9 yards rushing.
The running backs couldn't create anything on their own, as Chris Rainey did for the Gators. And the offensive line was overmatched.
Tennessee Stat Book
That was too much for UT's passing game to overcome, particularly after it lost star wide receiver Justin Hunter to an apparent knee injury on the first drive of the game. Bray completed 26 of 48 passes for 288 yards and three touchdowns, but those stats were terribly misleading.
Bray threw two interceptions, and the Gators might have had four more if they had held on to the ball. His first interception was devastating.
UT had gathered some momentum by cutting Florida's lead to 16-7 on a scoring drive near the end of the first half. Then, on its first possession of the second half, Bray tried to drop a pass over safety Josh Evans' head. Evans made a leaping catch for an interception to set up a 42-yard touchdown drive.
Even when Bray wasn't throwing interceptions, he didn't look nearly as sharp as he did the first two games against inferior competition. Florida's pass rush contributed to that, but Bray also made more bad throws than he did in the first two games combined.
UT's defense limited Florida to 134 yards rushing and held Florida's wide receivers to only three catches. But the Vols looked bewildered on Florida's touchdown drive to open the game when quarterback John Brantley completed one pass after another to his running backs. They also were at a loss when Rainey turned another short completion into an 83-yard touchdown play midway through the third quarter.
Despite those breakdowns, UT's most glaring problems remain its running game and offensive line. For all of its returning starters, the offensive line doesn't look improved over last season when it steps up in competition.
Florida has a solid defensive front. It doesn't have the depth of quality that LSU does or the playmakers that South Carolina does.
After an open date next Saturday and Buffalo the following week, there's more big-boy football coming in October. The Vols have three weeks to get ready for it.