Vols drop SEC opener to Florida, 47-21
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Athletics) – Tennessee and Florida were nearly even in total yardage, but six turnovers proved too much for the Vols to overcome in a 47-21 loss to the Gators in front of a crowd of 100,207 Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.
Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks passed for 172 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score to help the Gators improve to 3-1 overall and 1-1 in the SEC. UT fell to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in league play on a night that saw Tennessee’s 1998 National Championship team honored on the field.
Tennessee out-gained Florida through the air, 208-186, with redshirt junior receiver Jauan Jennings hauling in four catches for a season-high 60 yards. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jarrett Guarantano finished the evening seven of 18 passing for 164 yards.
Sophomore Ty Chandler and redshirt senior Madre London each had 66 yards rushing to pace a Tennessee ground attack that produced 156 yards. London and freshman Jeremy Banks had touchdown runs for the Big Orange.
UF capitalized on a pair of UT miscues to go up 14-0 in the opening quarter. Franks found tight end R.J. Raymond for a one-yard touchdown pass at the 6:50 mark, and Franks called his own number from one-yard out with 4:52 left. Evan McPherson added the extra points.
Tennessee responded by generating points of its own via a turnover. Freshman cornerback Alontae Taylor forced a fumble by Florida running back Lamical Perine, and senior defensive end Kyle Phillips returned it four yards to set the Vols up at the Gators 34. UT moved the ball to the UF 15 before sophomore placekicker Brent Cimaglia came on to book a 32-yard field goal and cut the deficit to 14-3 with 13:13 left in the second period.
The Big Orange defense forced Florida to punt on its next possession. The Gators pinned the Vols deep at their own two, however, and linebacker Cece Jefferson tackled sophomore running back Tim Jordan in the end zone for a safety two plays later to boost the visitors’ lead to 16-3 with 11:03 to go in the second.
Following the kickoff after the safety, Florida wide receiver Freddie Swain hauled in a Franks pass and took it 65 yards. McPherson’s PAT made it 23-3, Gators, with 10:42 remaining before halftime.
The Vols bounced back by moving the ball on the next possession and had a 55-yard pass play from Guarantano to redshirt sophomore tight end Austin Pope that appeared to have UT in scoring position. As Pope was tackled, however, the ball popped loose and skidded through the back of the end zone for a touchback.
Florida added to its lead with 15 seconds left in the first half, as McPherson knocked a 25-yard field through the uprights to make it 26-3 at the half.
The Gators took advantage of another UT turnover early in the third frame. Jordan Scarlett’s 19-yard run and McPherson’s PAT made it 33-3 Florida with 14:44 to go.
The Vols responded on the following drive, marching 51 yards in eight plays to set Cimaglia up for his second field goal of the evening. His 41-yard effort made it 33-6 Florida with 12:38 to go in the third.
Tennessee rang up points again in the third stanza. With redshirt senior quarterback Keller Chryst on in place of Guarantano, the Vols moved 69 yards in 11 plays to tally their first touchdown of the game. London finished the drive by plowing into the end zone from one yard out. Cimaglia added the PAT to make the score 33-13 Gators.
Florida responded on the next series with a 38-yard hook-up from Franks to Tyrie Cleveland to push its lead to 40-13 with 13:17 remaining in the game. McPherson tacked on the PAT.
Tennessee continued to battle and responded with its second TD of the game. Banks plunged into the end zone from two yards out to cap a 12-play, 76-yard drive. A two-point conversion pass from Chryst to Jennings was good, bringing the score to 40-21 with 5:04 left on the clock.
The Gators came right back after recovering UT’s attempt of an onside kick. Running back Dameon Pierce raced 47 yards to pay dirt, and McPherson followed with the extra point to make it 47-21 with 4:54 remaining.
The Vols return to action next Saturday, as they travel to Athens, Ga., to take on the second-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. Kickoff at Sanford Stadium is slated for 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS.