Vols swamped by Gators
GAINESVILLE -- After wins in the previous two trips, the Swamp was beginning to be a nice place to visit for the Tennessee Volunteers. But after a dismal 16-7 loss on Saturday, the Big Orange Nation is beginning to remember what the old Florida rivalry was all about.
In front of the largest crowd ever to witness a football game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, the Vols started the first drive with two weeks of preparation and a lot to prove.
When the last seconds ticked off the clock in the final quarter, the Vols still had much to prove and only had one solid scoring drive in their favor. A good defense alone wasn't enough.
The Gators hit the ground running, trying to prove early that Urban Meyer's offensive scheme was more than a Utah fluke. On their second possession the Gators drove 80 yards and put seven points on the board courtesy an 18-yard run by receiver Andre Caldwell.
Tennessee marched down the field with Erik Ainge at quarterback in place of starter Rick Clausen. Ainge lofted a fade to Bret Smith to the corner of the end zone from 8 yards out to even the score with 9:29 remaining in the first half.
The defenses then took over for the rest of the half with the only threatening drive coming from the Vols and resulting in a blocked field goal after some UT sputtering inside the red zone.
After the Vol defense shut down the Gators' opening drive of the second half, Jonathan Hefney muffed a punt and Florida recovered in Tennessee territory.
Though the Vol defense again rose to the challenge, the Gators were still close enough to salvage a Chris Hetland 38-yard field goal, which was the eventual game-winner.
The Florida kicker went on to push two more attempts through the uprights (35, 20) for incentive.
"That was two sledgehammers swinging at each other all night," Meyer said of the two SEC East programs after the game.
Despite the closeness of the contest, the Vols were still disappointed with their play.
A miscommunicated fake punt and a blocked field goal were just two of many special teams mistakes contributing to the Tennessee loss.
"We are a team, and we are all on the same ship," UT linebacker Kevin Simon said. "If special teams break down, it hurts me too. I appreciate their effort but it wasn't good enough tonight."
The loss squanders an otherwise memorable effort by the Vol defense that allowed just 247 total yards.
"Our defense played their hearts out," Simon said. "We just made more mistakes than Florida's defense did."
Vol tailback Gerald Riggs Jr. averaged 5.1 yards per carry and totaled 87 yards on the ground but had little help from an offense that managed but 213 yards.
"We left a lot of plays on the field whether it was a bad route, bad throw or dropped pass," Ainge said. "I thought we played pretty good, but pretty good isn't good enough against Florida."
The Gators dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for 34:30 as compared to UT's 25:30.
The Vols were able to convert but 3-of-13 third down plays and were 0-for-3 on fourth down.
The win gives Florida an inside track to the SEC championship in December. In fact, the loser of the rivalry has only made it to the championship one time since the division was divided in 1992, and that was Tennessee in 1997. So the Vols have an uphill climb ahead.