KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Even with the noise of a packed Neyland Stadium ringing in their ears, Florida’s young Gators needed a wakeup call late Saturday afternoon and their coach, Urban Meyer, provided it.
With his team tied 10-10 with upset-minded Tennessee on a beautiful day on the banks of the Tennessee River, Meyer once again turned into a riverboat gambler.
For the seventh time in his six seasons in Gainesville, Meyer rolled the dice and called for a fake punt, and for the eighth time (yes, remember Chas Henry’s improvisation against Hawaii two years ago was done without Meyer’s consent) the Gators converted, this time with up-back Omarius Hines fielding the short snap and rumbling around left end and upfield for 36 yards.
The crucial fourth-down conversion was followed six plays later by John Brantley’s 7-yard scoring pass to Frankie Hammond Jr. that sent No. 7 Florida on its way to a 31-17 victory, the Gators’ sixth straight in the series during Meyer’s watch and third straight at Neyland, something never before accomplished by Florida.
“Momentum switched in this stadium,” Meyer said afterward, “and once it goes, it’s hard to get back. We had to get the momentum back. Obviously to take it down there and score was huge.”
Ironically in a week that saw redshirt junior slotback Chris Rainey suspended Tuesday from the team after being arrested for felony stalking, Hammond came up with the touchdown that broke a 10-10 tie. Hammond himself had lost his scholarship because of a DUI arrest during the summer and he’s had to work his way out of purgatory into Meyer’s good graces.
His 7-yard touchdown grab at the back of the end zone was the first of two third-quarter touchdowns for Florida (3-0, 1-0 SEC East). Mike Gillislee’s second TD run of the game, this a 5-yard burst with 12 seconds left in the quarter, made it 24-10 Florida heading into the final quarter.
First-year coach Derek Dooley’s Volunteers (1-2, 0-1 SEC East) got a break early in the fourth quarter when replay wiped out a Florida safety after it appeared Simms, who had Florida linebacker Jelanie Jenkins wrapped around him, intentionally grounded the ball in the end zone. The video showed that Simms was barely out of the end zone. Eventually Tennessee punted the ball away but got it back a few plays later when linebacker Austin Johnson stripped the ball from Jeff Demps. Six plays later, on fourth-and-six at the Florida 35, Simms waited and waited until Justin Hunter cleared the Florida secondary for a touchdown reception that cut the Florida lead to 24-17 with 11:24 to play.
But the Gators answered that touchdown with a scoring drive that ended with freshman Trey Burton replacing Brantley and going the final 2 yards on the 60-yard scoring drive that made it 31-17 with 6:15 left.
Once again, the Gators had trouble holding onto the ball with bad exchanges between Brantley and center Mike Pouncey and other fumbles, a total of four, losing two of them – one by punt returner Janoris Jenkins, who was replacing Rainey.
But the Florida defense came up with three Tennessee turnovers – two on interceptions by linebacker Jon Bostic and cornerback Jeremy Brown – to overcome a gutty, learning experience by JUCO-transfer quarterback Matt Simms, the son of NFL great Phil Simms and New Jersey high school teammate of Florida defensive end/co-captain Justin Trattou. Simms passed for 259 yards and two touchdowns but got no help from his running attack, which was limited to 29 yards on 23 carries.
Meanwhile, redshirt junior Brantley won his first start on the road, completing 14 of 23 passes for 167 yards and running his streak of passes without an interception to 150 and the Florida rushing offense, after a slow start (19 yards on 19 first-half carries), finished with 150 yards on 49 carries. Jeff Demps, who rushed for a career-high 139 yards last week in Florida’s 38-14 victory over South Florida, had a career-high 26 carries and gained just 74 yards. But Demps also had three receptions for 34 yards and he had two big kickoff returns totaling 70 yards that Florida turned into touchdowns.
“I think you saw two young teams trying to figure it out out there,” added Meyer, whose team returns home to prepare for a 7 p.m. visit from Kentucky next Saturday (ESPNU). “That’s kind of who we are right now. I was disappointed with our first half but we came out in the second half and made some plays.”
Tennessee took a 3-0 lead on Daniel Lincoln’s 49-yard field goal with 1:17 left in the first quarter, but Florida responded with Gillislee’s first touchdown run from 2 yards out at 11:49 left in the half and that 7-3 lead stood at the intermission.
Florida took Demps’ second-half kickoff return and converted it into three points on a 44-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis, but Simms found a wide-open Denarius Moore behind cornerback Jeremy Brown and completed a 49-yard touchdown play that tied the game at 10-10.
Momentum was clearly moving toward Tennessee after the ensuing kickoff and Neyland Stadium was rocking when the defense forced Florida into a punt formation.
Only Urban Meyer had a little something up his sleeve.
No. 7 FLORIDA 31, TENNESSEE 17
Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010 at Knoxville, Tenn.
Shields-Watkins Field at Gen. Robert R. Neyland Stadium
SCORE BY QUARTERS
1 2 3 4—Total
Florida Gators 0 7 17 7—31
Tennessee Volunteers 3 0 7 7—17
TENN—FG David Lincoln 49 good at 1:17. Drive: 8 plays, 25 yards, 2 first downs, 3:08 time elapsed after Florida turned the ball over on downs. Key plays: Actually, the key plays were the two Florida offensive plays that preceded the drive when Tennessee stopped Emmanuel Moody for no gain on third-and-1 at the Tennessee 43 and then stopped Mike Gillislee for no gain on fourth down for no gain. So Tennessee, which had started its first two drives inside its own 10, got the ball at its own 43 when Florida lost its gamble. On third-and-3 at midfield, Matt Simms used a little play-action dump pass to tight end Luke Stocker to gain 5 yards and a first down and David Oku followed with an 11-yard run for another first down to the Florida 34. Score: Tennessee 3, Florida 0.
FLA—Mike Gillislee 2 run (Caleb Sturgis kick good) at 11:49. Drive: 9 plays, 42 yards, 3 first downs, 4:28 time elapsed following 43-yard kickoff return by Jeff Demps and 15-yard face-mask penalty on Tennessee that gave the Gators the ball at the UT 42. Key plays: On second-and-11 play from 43, John Brantley hit Deonte Thompson for 16 yards and a first down to the Tennessee 27. On the first play of the second quarter, Brantley threw a little flair pass in the flat to Demps, who scooted 11 yards for another first down. On third-and-6 play at the UT 12, Brantley completed an 8-yard pass to freshman Robert Clark, who lost his helmet but moved the chains. Gillislee finished off the drive with a pair of 2 yard runs, the second behind right guard Jon Halapio, right tackle Marcus Gilbert and tackle/tight end Xavier Nixon. Score: Florida 7, Tennessee 3.
FLA—FG Caleb Sturgis 44 good at 10:25. Drive: 10 plays, 54 yards, 3 first downs, 4:35 time elapsed following second-half kickoff. Key plays: Florida, which managed only 19 rushing yards on 19 attempts in the first half, picked up first downs on consecutive rushing plays – an 18-yard run by Demps and a 12-yard scramble by Brantley. Score: Florida 10, Tennessee 3.
TENN—Denarius Moore 49 pass from Matt Simms (Lincoln kick good) at 8:59. Drive: 3 plays, 71 yards, 2 first downs, 1:26 time elapsed following Florida kickoff. Key plays: Simms completed a pass to Justin Hunter for 16 yards and a first down at the Florida 49. On the next play, Simms froze cornerback Jeremy Brown, allowing Moore to sprint into the open and catch Simms’ pass for a touchdown. Score: Tennessee 10, Florida 10.
FLA—Frankie Hammond Jr. 7 pass from John Brantley (Sturgis kick good) at 4:31. Drive: 10 plays, 65 yards, 2 first downs, 4:28 time elapsed following Tennessee kickoff. Key plays: On fourth-and-6 from the Florida 39, with the Neyland Stadium crowd into it, the long snap went to upback Omarius Hines, who followed his blocks around left end and downfield for a 36-yard gain and first down that kept the drive alive. It was the eighth success (out of eight attempts) that Florida has had running a fake punt play under Urban Meyer. Brantley then completed two straight third-down passes – a 14-yard bullet to Carl Moore for a first-and-goal at the UT 9 and then another bullet to a wide-open Hammonds at the back of the north end zone for the touchdown. Score: Florida 17, Tennessee 10.
FLA—Gillislee 5 run (Sturgis kick good) at 0:12. Drive: 5 plays, 41 yards, 2 first downs, 2:27 time elapsed following Jeremy Brown interception. Key plays: Gillislee gained 11 yards on the first play and Brantley found Hines for 13 for a first down at the UT 9. After Florida was penalized for an illegal substitution, Emmanuel Moody rushed 9 yards and Gillislee then finished the drive off with his second TD of the game. Score: Florida 24, Tennessee 10.
TENN—Justin Hunter 35 pass from Simms (Lincoln kick good) at 11:24. Drive: 6 plays, 51 yards, 2 first downs, 1:52 time elapsed following A. Johnson recovery of Jeff Demps fumble. Key plays: Tennessee, which had a third-and-25 at the UT 46, got a 19-yard completion from Simms to Luke Stocker and then Simms found a wide-open Hunter behind a mixed-up Florida secondary in the end zone on fourth-and-6 from the Florida 35. Score: Florida 24, Tennessee 17.
FLA—Trey Burton 2 run (Sturgis kick good) at 6:15. Drive: 9 plays, 60 yards, 3 first downs, 5:09 time elapsed following out-of-bounds kickoff that gave Florida a first down at its own 40. Key plays: Brantley hit Deonte Thompson for 24 yards and a first down at the UT 40; Brantley hit Carl Moore, who made a leaping catch for 12 yards and a first down on third-and-9 play; Demps runs of 16 and 6 yards to set up Burton’s TD run. Score: Florida 31, Tennessee 17.
Attendance: 102,455 (capacity).
Weather at kickoff: Sunny, temperature 86 degrees, relative humidity 45 percent. Heat index: 89. Winds from the W at 4 mph.
Officials: Hubert Owens, referee; Grant Jackson, field judge; Russ Pulley, umpire; Bobby Moreau, side judge; John Langlois, head linesman; Dale Keneipp, back judge; Terry Walters, line judge; Michael Williams, alternate.
Coin toss: Florida wins, defers to second half, kicks off and defends south end zone.
Kickoff: 3:39 p.m. Game ended: 6:58. Total time elapsed: 3:19.
Records: Florida 3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference East Division; Tennessee 1-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference East Division.
Next games: Florida vs. Kentucky Sept. 25 at Gainesville, 7 p.m. (ESPNU); Tennessee vs. UAB Sept. 25 at Knoxville, Tenn., 12:21 p.m. (SEC Network).
FLORIDA 31, TENNESSEE 17: THE STATS PACK, click below:
WEEK 3: COLLEGE SCORES, STANDINGS, SCHEDULES, click below: