Recap: Florida at Tennessee
Time-lapse video of Neyland Stadium during Vols' game
Tennessee Stat Book
“I say it every week,’’ Derek Dooley said Saturday night, “big plays and turnovers.’’
Tennessee made the turnovers. Florida made the big plays, a bunch of them.
And those big plays were the big difference as the 18th-ranked Gators scored 24 unanswered points to overtake and then bury No. 23 Tennessee 37-20 at Neyland Stadium.
The Vols (2-1, 0-1 SEC) had scrambled back on the college football map this week in Dooley’s third year as coach, attracting the program’s first Top 25 ranking in four seasons and their first visit from ESPN’s College GameDay in eight.
It will be a short stay.
A Florida team offensively challenged in its first two games this season racked up 555 yards and scored on plays of 80, 23 and 75 yards to wipe out a 20-13 UT lead in the third quarter.
When Jeff Driskel, the sophomore quarterback making his second start, hit Frankie Hammond for a 75-yard touchdown with 9:55 to play, Florida led 34-20 and a sellout crowd of 102,455 began to file homeward.
“We lost big plays and turnovers,’’ Dooley said. “You can’t give up those big plays in this league and expect to win a football game. You just can’t.’’
Especially against historical nemesis Florida. The Gators (3-0, 2-0) extended their mastery of wanna-be rival Tennessee to eight years.
This time, the Vols were a mild favorite and appeared to have the edge with big-play performers in a high-octane offense.
Cordarrelle Patterson caught eight passes for 75 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown in the first quarter.
Justin Hunter caught five balls for 76 yards, but never found the end zone.
Tyler Bray was only 22 of 44 passing for 257 yards. His other TD pass was for 6 yards to tight end Mychal Rivera in the second quarter.
But it all added up to a modest 340 yards of offense in the Vols’ first test against an SEC defense.
Still, it was anybody’s game for three quarters.
An ESPN national audience watched the Vols go up 20-13 when linebacker A.J. Johnson joined the offense and scored on a 1-yard run midway through the third quarter.
An unexpected touchdown from No. 45 would have been poignant on a night when Johnny Majors’ No. 45 jersey was retired in a pregame ceremony.
But Florida wasn’t feeling sentimental.
The Gators quickly got even on Trey Burton’s 80-yard touchdown run with 3:15 left in the third quarter.
From that point on, the Vols could not match the Gators on either side of the line of scrimmage.
“We have put a tremendous emphasis on winning the fourth quarter and winning the second half and wearing down our opponent,’’ said Florida coach Will Muschamp.
“That’s something we’ve been able to do in the first three games. Again, that’s just something our kids have bought into.’’
After Burton’s TD sprint, Bray completed only three of his final 15 pass attempts.
Mixed in were two drops that would have sustained drives, as well as Bray’s second interception of the game.
“I can’t put into words, really, what happened,’’ said tailback Rajion Neal of UT’s meltdown.
After the second interception, by Matt Elam, Florida scored quickly, a three-play, 70-yard drive. A 45-yard Mike Gillislee run set up Driskel’s 23-yard pass to Jordan Reed to go up 27-20.
The Vols had two chances to answer but didn’t. Then came the Driskel-to-Hammond back-breaker.
Finally, Florida’s Caleb Sturgis added his third field goal, from 49 yards, with 6:44 to play.
“We thought we could go toe-to-toe with them for four quarters, yes,’’ said Dooley.
“There’s no excuses. We didn’t get it done.’’
The Vols had modest success running the ball as Neal rushed for 87 yards. The Gators, however, dwarfed UT’s total with 336 yards on the ground.
Florida also didn’t have a turnover — although it almost had a horrific one the first time it touched the ball.
The Gators’ first offensive snap — backed up at their 10 — was an attempted reverse but the ball got dropped on the exchange and was on the ground at the 3.
No orange shirts could get to it, however. Florida recovered and punted out of danger.
Shortly, Bray was throwing his first interception of the season — on his 66th attempt. Lerentee McCray’s pick and return gave the Gators a short field.
Burton, perhaps loosening up for his second-half jaunt, scored on a 14-yard dash.
Down 7-0, the Vols got even on the 2-yard TD dart from Bray to Patterson.
The Vols’ next possession was a laborious, 16-play affair but it got the desired result.
Along the way UT had to overcome three penalties and an official’s ruling of a Patterson fumble that was overturned on review.
The TD pass to Rivera put Tennessee on top 14-7. They just couldn’t find a way to stay there.