Florida went into Neyland stadium on Saturday and did pretty much what I expected them to do, that is win a close fought game between 2 bitter rivals by the score 31-17. Just like in the first two games of the season, Florida couldn’t get anything going offensively in the first half. The first half was a defensive battle between the 2 hard hitting defenses.
The storyline of the day was that for every Tennessee big play, Florida answered with an even bigger one. Tennessee took an early 3-0 lead with a 49 yard field goal with 3 minutes left to play in the opening quarter. After the field goal, Florida marched down the field and cashed in a 2 yard TD run by Mike Gillislee. The 9 play drive was set up by another long Jeff Demps kick-off return. Tennessee was shut down in the ensuing drive, but a mishandled ball on the punt return by Janoris Jenkins ended with Tennessee recovering the ball deep in Florida territory. After a quick two plays the Vols were inside the Gator 10 and poised to take the lead. Then MLB Jon Bostic made a play of his own. The true sophomore stepped back into zone coverage and read QB Matt Sims eyes. He leapt for the pass intended for the TE in endzone and came up with a huge catch. The interception carried Florida into halftime with a 7-3 lead.
The stats at half were ugly, Florida had 95 yards of total offense and Tennessee had even less. It took a 17 point 3rd quarter for the Gators to get some separation from the pesky Volunteers. Florida took the opening drive 10 plays into Tennessee territory and kicked a field goal for the 10-3 lead. Tennessee answered with a 49 yard touchdown pass on the 3rd play of the drive. Florida was stopped on the next 3 plays to set up a 4th and 6 from their own 39. Neyland stadium was rocking as Tennessee had the Gators stopped and you could tell momentum had gone over to the Vols. Then Urban Meyer dialled one up from his bag of tricks. A fake punt, direct snap to WR Omarius Hines resulted in a 36 yard run. The stadium was stunned; momentum was back with the Orange and Blue. 6 plays latter Brantley hooked up with Frankie Hammond in the back of the endzone right in front of the goal post for a 7 yard touchdown pass.
The next Tennessee drive ended with Gator CB Jeremy Brown stepping in front of a Matt Sims pass for the second INT of the game, the Gators NCAA leading 10 interception of the season. Again 6 plays later, Mike Gillislee ran in his second TD of the game from 5 yards out. Just like that it was Florida 24, Tennessee 10.
On the next drive Tennessee managed to just barely not to concede a safety and punted out of its endzone after a 3 and out. A great play by Chris Cates gave the Volunteers the ball back as he stripped Jeff Demps of the ball as he was falling to the ground. Tennessee would take advantage of the turnover by miraculously scoring on a 35 yard TD pass on a 4th and 6. The fans could sense this game was back within reach with 11 minutes left to play and down only by a touchdown. Then the Gators did what they had been doing all day, answer Tennessee play for play. Florida put together a 9 play drive for 60 yards that ate up 5 minutes and ended in a 2 yard TD run by freshman QB Trey Burton, who was brought in to run the “Tebow package”. With little over 6 minute to play Tennessee was down by 14 again. Florida then closed the game with a fumble recovery by freshman Matt Elam after Will Hill’s jarring hit caused the Volunteer receiver to cough up the ball.
Florida won this one with a gutsy effort and solid defense. Despite giving up 2 big plays that resulted in 14 points, the Gator D held the Volunteers to 29 rushing yards on 23 attempts, forced 3 turnovers, sacked Matt Sims 6 times and held Tennessee to 2 for 13 on 3rd down. After a slow start, Brantley threw for 167 yards and 1 TD without any interceptions and the running game produced 150 yards. Time of possession was heavily tilted to Florida (37 to 23). This will be the recipe going forward for Urban Meyer; play sound defense, control the clock, win the battle of field position and make enough plays on offense to seal the game late. It will have to be because the young Gator D is stout, aggressive and prone to force turnovers. It will only get better as the young linebackers gain more experience. The offense on the other hand still looks awkward, lacking rhythm and big plays. This is starting to resemble the 2006 team that won many close games, impressed few, but came of age late in the season to shock the world in Glendale Arizona when they blew out the heavily favoured Buckeyes to win Urban Meyer’s first National Title.
This was the Gators 3rd straight win in Knoxville and 6th over the Vols in the Meyer era.
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Written by The Gator Great