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Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee senior defensive back Alontae Taylor celebrates his strip of Florida receiver Jacob Copeland late in the first half of Saturday night's game in the Swamp.

Whether it was Emory Jones the runner or Emory Jones the passer, the Tennessee Volunteers simply didn't have an answer.

Florida's redshirt junior quarterback turned in quite the complete performance Saturday night inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, rushing for 144 yards and throwing for 209 as the No. 11 Gators broke free from a tight first half and cruised to a 38-14 triumph in Gainesville. Jones, a 6-foot-1, 210-pounder from LaGrange, Georgia, completed 21 of 27 passes, notched 12 consecutive completions at one point, threw for two touchdowns and averaged 9.6 yards per carry.

"You're seeing him really settling down," Florida coach Dan Mullen said on his Zoom call afterward. "I think that shows in how he's managing things."

The victory was Florida's 16th over Tennessee in 17 seasons, with the 38-28 win by the Vols inside Neyland Stadium in 2016 the lone exception. A crowd of 88,478 witnessed Florida's fourth straight double-digit series conquest.

"It's extremely disappointing that the second half unfolded the way that it did," Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said. "I thought we competed and responded extremely well in the first half in all three phases of the game. We didn't take advantage of opportunities in the second half, and we didn't play smart football down the stretch.

"It wasn't a matter of not wanting to in the second half. We just weren't smart enough competitors to go play the way that we needed to against a really good football team."

Hendon Hooker started at quarterback for Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) until getting shaken up with 9:02 remaining, when he was replaced by Joe Milton, who started the first two games for the Vols but missed last weekend's throttling of Tennessee Tech. Florida backup quarterback Anthony Richardson, who missed last weekend's 31-29 loss to top-ranked Alabama with a hamstring injury, did not play Saturday.

Hooker completed 13 of 23 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns, but he wasn't a rushing factor, netting 23 yards on 13 carries.

"We really didn't want to play Joe in this game based off the amount of work he got during the week and where we felt he was at the end of the week," Heupel said. "I thought Hendon played hard and competed and made some big-time plays. He handled the noise and the communication for the most part in a positive way.

"I thought there were a ton of positives there."

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Tennessee at Florida football on Sept. 25, 2021

The Gators (3-1, 1-1) built their first multiple-score advantage with their first possession of the second half, marching 78 yards in six plays and taking a 24-14 lead when Jones threw behind the line to receiver Trent Whittemore, who then found Kemore Gamble alone in the end zone from 13 yards out. Tennessee's first drive of the second half included a 7-yard gain from Hooker to JaVonta Payton to convert a fourth-and-5 from Florida's 42, but a second fourth-and-5 try from the 30 came up empty when Jimmy Calloway dropped the sure first down.

"In the second half, the clock was draining on everybody's drives," Heupel said. "There weren't a ton of opportunities, so you have to maximize every one of those drives. We had Calloway on a simple drag route, and he had a chance to pick up the first down and maybe go the distance.

"There were some unique things that unfolded that you can't do if you want to win against a really good football team like this."

The Gators responded to Calloway's gaffe by moving 70 yards in eight plays, putting the game away at 31-14 on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Rick Wells with 2:04 remaining in the third quarter.

Florida struck first in the game by forcing a Tennessee three-and-out and then embarking on a 10-play, 66-yard drive that culminated with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Malik Davis at the 9:20 mark of the opening quarter. The Vols failed to gain on the first play of their second possession, but then Hooker got loose for 15 yards and then Jabari Small followed with a 16-yard carry to Florida's 49.

Two plays after crossing midfield, Tennessee struck for a surprising score when Tiyon Evans took a short pass from Hooker and broke free to race 47 yards into the end zone. The possession covered 80 yards in six plays, and Florida's ensuing possession ended in a 48-yard Jace Christmann field goal that gave the Gators a 10-7 lead after the first 15 minutes.

With 11:31 before halftime, Tennessee took its first lead when Hooker found Payton alone down the left sideline for a 75-yard scoring strike. Before that connection that made it 14-10, the Vols had been just 1-for-14 this year on throws that covered at least 30 yards.

Florida went back up 17-14 at the 4:15 mark of the second quarter on Nay'Quan Wright's 23-yard touchdown run that capped a six-play, 59-yard drive that was extended on a Jones third-and-5 pass to Wells that picked up 6 to the Tennessee 48.

The Gators were looking to add more with just less than a minute before halftime when Vols cornerback Alontae Taylor stripped the ball from Gators receiver Jacob Copeland at the Tennessee 15. The Vols quickly moved down the field to Florida's 30, but Chase McGrath's 47-yard field goal sailed right as time expired.

Tennessee had a 261-213 yardage advantage at intermission, but Florida wound up with a 505-423 edge for the game.

 

Penalties return

Tennessee committed 13 penalties for 134 yards during its 41-34 loss to Pittsburgh on Sept. 11, and the flags were flying again Saturday night. The Vols had 10 penalties against the Gators totaling 85 yards.

"Obviously the two on special teams were disappointing — hitting the guy early who's catching the football, and we got the unsportsmanlike conduct through the course of that play," Heupel said. "Those are just things that you can't do. We had a couple of penalties on offense that hurts you in situational football.

"We had some moving parts up front that played a part of that, but at the end of the day, when you're playing at this level, you've got to go execute."

 

Odds and ends

Tennessee only had nine players on the field to return a punt early in the second quarter after both Trevon Flowers and returner Velus Jones, who each wear No. 1, raced to the sideline. ... Sophomore receiver Jimmy Holiday was ejected for targeting on the punt coverage team with 3:16 before halftime. ... Sophomore center Cooper Mays returned to the starting lineup but was limping noticeably in the third quarter and was replaced by Jerome Carvin in the fourth. ... Tennessee's game at Missouri next Saturday will have a noon Eastern kickoff on the SEC Network.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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