published Sunday, September 16th, 2012

Gators continue control of Vols, 37-20

Tennessee's Rajion Neal (20) looks for running room as Florida's Josh Evans (9) cuts off his route in first half action.
Tennessee's Rajion Neal (20) looks for running room as Florida's Josh Evans (9) cuts off his route in first half action.
Photo by Tim Barber.

KNOXVILLE — The script included an unexpected twist.

The ending to the movie, though, was very much the same.

Tennessee took a different route to its eighth consecutive loss to Florida on Saturday night, as the 18th-ranked Gators dominated the final 20 minutes in a 37-20 runaway Southeastern Conference win against the Volunteers in front of a capacity crowd at Neyland Stadium.

Florida (3-0, 1-0) ran up 253 yards in the game's final 18:27 and scored the final 24 points to turn a close game into a rout of the 23rd-ranked Vols (2-1, 0-1).

"It's disappointing, and them guys are hurting in there because we came in here expecting to win," Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said. "[We] knew it wasn't going to be easy, knew it was going to be tough and had a great game going. We just let it slip away."

The Vols reappeared in one Top 25 poll and had ESPN on campus for its popular "College Gameday" show Saturday morning, but all the anticipation and buildup came crashing down as the Vols fell apart at the seams with their most menacing nemesis wrecking the festivities.

"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, whose Gators came from behind to win an SEC road game for the second consecutive week. "That's something our kids have bought into. They believe that. We grew up a lot last year."

The Vols recovered after falling behind early and scored on their opening second-half possession to take a 20-13 lead. Tennessee settled in after a shaky start offensively, and its defense bowed its neck twice when Florida drove inside UT's 10. The Vols had the lead, the momentum and the ball in Gators territory after thwarting a fake-punt attempt before the unraveling began.

Tennessee missed an assignment in pass protection, and a Florida blitzer forced quarterback Tyler Bray into an intentional-grounding penalty. The Vols had to punt, and the Gators took the game over from there with big plays. Trey Burton started the romp with an 80-yard touchdown run to tie the game, and Mike Gillislee's 45-yard burst through the heart of Tennessee's defense set up the go-ahead touchdown, a 23-yard pass from Jeff Driskel to Jordan Reed.

"Up until that point we've got a heck of a game going," Dooley said. "They did a real good job with a lot of shifts and formations, and we knew they would to kind of challenge our ability to adjust. We held up pretty good up until that point.

"From that point on, we didn't handle it very well. You can't give up those in this league and expect to win a football game. You just can't."

Frankie Hammond's 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown slammed the door on any remaining hopes Tennessee had of ending the losing streak.

"It takes much out of us, because in the meeting room that's the one thing we stress, is eliminate big plays," cornerback Prentiss Waggner said. "When they gashed us that much for those many yards, it takes a toll on the defense. The defense takes a hit from it, so we've got to deal with adversity well, forget about it and come back and make a play."

Tennessee actually forced a punt on Florida's first drive following the go-ahead score, but the Vols' offense was sputtering badly by that point. Quarterback Tyler Bray threw his second interception of the game after Florida's Lerentee McCray hit his arm on the release. After that, the incompletions began coming fast, and the Vols abandoned a rushing attack that was modestly successful.

"I think we all got a little frustrated at times," said tailback Rajion Neal, who gained 87 yards on 23 carries. "You could sense it a little bit. You could sense that the urgency to win kind of took over and made us start doing the little things that we probably shouldn't have been doing."

Bray settled in after nearly throwing three first-quarter interceptions, but the junior finished 22-of-44 passing for 257 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions and was clearly dejected after the loss.

"We lost," he said. "It doesn't matter what my performance was, and it doesn't matter what anyone else's performance was -- we lost. It's just us not responding.

"We knew we were going to the ones to stop us, and it's what happened tonight. We just kind of fell apart. When it comes down to crunch time, big guys have to step up, and we didn't."

Dooley said earlier in the week he wanted to see how Bray would handle rough patches.

"I thought he was working through the game pretty good," the coach said. "I don't know how much to put it on Tyler. It looked like we lost a little juice right at the end, on both sides."

With the Vols collapsing, the Gators finished the deal and continued Tennessee's misery.

"We felt like we were equipped to go toe-to-toe with them for four quarters, yes," Dooley said. "There's no excuses. We didn't get it done, and give Florida the credit. They did what they needed to do.

"I don't know what else to say."

The same movie script said enough.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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