After two less than satisfactory appearances to start the season, the Florida Gators were looking to get their offense going against hated rival Tennessee on the road in the SEC opener. But for the third game in a row the Gator offense struggled to move the ball and ended the first half with less than 100 yards.
Midway through the first quarter the Gators attempted to convert a 4th-and-1 at the Tennessee 43 yard line, but running back Mike Gillislee was stuffed and the Vols took over on downs. They managed to move the ball 25 yards against the strong Florida defense and walk away with a 49 yard field goal by Daniel Lincoln. It was the first time Tennessee had scored the first points in a game against Florida since 2001.
On the ensuing kickoff, a 43 yard return by Jeffery Demps combined with a facemask penalty allowed the Gator offense to start at the Tennessee 42 yard line. Nine plays later Mike Gillislee punched it in the endzone from two yards out to give Florida the 7-3 lead which held through the rest of the half. Tennessee nearly took a 10-7 lead, but on 3rd-and-goal at the three yard line, Matt Simms threw an interception to Jonathan Bostic in the endzone. It was a huge missed opportunity by the Vols, but it was an equally huge play by the Gator defense.
Florida took the ball to start the second half and their offense came to life. They took the opening drive 54 yards in 10 plays to set up a 44 yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis. Tennessee responded almost immediately with a 49 yard touchdown pass from Matt Simms to Denarius Moore to tie the game at 10.
Perhaps feeling a little desperate to get something going, Urban Meyer called a gutsy fake punt on 4th-and-6 from his own 39 yard line on the next drive. Omarius Hines ran the ball 36 yards to the Tennessee 25 to keep the drive moving. Six plays later John Brantley found Frankie Hammond Jr. in the endzone for a seven yard touchdown pass and a 17-10 lead.
Simms threw an interception to Jeremy Brown on Tennessee's next drive that set up the Gators with another short field at the Volunteer 40 yard line. Moving the ball mostly on the ground with three different ball carries they finished off the drive with Gillislee's second touchdown of the day from five yards out. Florida took a seemingly commanding 24-10 lead into the fourth quarter.
At this point Tennessee came completely unraveled. Their first drive of the fourth quarter started with a six yard sack by Brandon Antwine and an intentional grounding penalty on Simms that almost resulted in a safety, but Simms was ruled down at the Tennessee 1-yard line. Florida fielded a punt near the 50 yard line, but on second down Demps fumbled the ball away and the Vols recovered at midfield.
Two penalties and two incomplete passes backed Tennessee into a 3rd-and-25 situation. Simms found Luke Stocker for 19 yards on third down, and then on 4th-and-6 he found Justin Hunter for a 35 yard touchdown pass to pull the Vols within seven points.
Tennessee kicked the kickoff out of bounds allowing Florida to start at their own 40-yard line. Then the marched 60 yards in nine plays eating up over five minutes on the clock. Trey Burton finished the drive with a two yard touchdown run. Florida took a 31-17 lead with about six minutes to go.
Tennessee tried to respond, but Tauren Poole fumbled the ball back to Florida after a 27-yard catch. That was pretty much the end for Tennessee on the day. They got the ball back with just over three minutes to go, but failed to convert on a 4th-and-17 with just over two minutes to go, and the game was over.
It was another disappointing performance for the Gator offense that was the benefactor of a lot of good field position. Jeff Brantley completed 14-of-23 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions on the day. He did a good job of spreading the ball around as seven different Gators caught passes led by Deonte Thompson who caught four balls for 55 yards. Jeff Demps led the Gators with 73 yards rushing on 26 carries. Demps also had 70 yards on two kick returns for an impressive 35 yard return average.
The Gator defense, however, did not disappoint in holding Tennessee to 288 total yards and only 29 yards rushing. They forced the Vols into three turnovers which prevented Tennessee from scoring one touchdown and set up the Florida offense with a short field that resulted in another touchdown.
Quotes From The Game
"I'm very proud of our guys to come on the road and win in the SEC. That's something we'll never take for granted."
- Florida Head Coach Urban Meyer -
The Gators should still be concerned. The Gators have not yet been able to score in the first quarter, which cannot happen against Alabama and LSU. Tennessee simply did not have the horses to compete with the Gators. Bama and LSU will. It is also obvious that Moore and Thompson aren't that bad, Hines is the most dynamic pass catcher, and Gillislee and Demps are the one-two punch. The question will remain of the offensive line and Brantley, who both need much more consistency. The o-line has the talent, but too many guys are not firing off into their blocks. Or worse, never pulling into the run lane and allowing Demps to get murdered on a sweep. Brantley is maybe too excited to throw. His poise in the pocket is fine and he has the NFL quality of throwing away to play another down. But the high balls to Moore and Thompson could lead to broken ribs or alligator arms.