Gators bait Vols, extend streak
By Leonard Butts | (email@example.com)
Just when the Vols thought it was safe to tempt the creatures of the swamp again, the Gators rose from the murkiness of seeming vulnerability to deliver yet another chomp.
After earning a top-25 ranking and garnering national attention for producing 1,082 yards of offense in the opening two games of the season, Tennessee abruptly stalled in testing Southeastern Conference waters on Saturday.
With home-field advantage and what appeared to be a much more explosive offense than Florida, coach Derek Dooley’s Volunteers started strong but faded into a familiar pattern of play in the second half.
Drive-stalling penalties and an erratic performance by quarterback Tyler Bray after Florida tied the contest at 20-all in the third quarter doomed the Vols to living with another year of what is now an eight-game winning streak held by the Gators.
It didn’t help matters that Tennessee reverted to form in not being able to run the football in its first major test of the season, producing only 83 yards on the ground.
In contrast, the Gators, who averaged just 24 points in their first two games, found the Volunteer defense much more agreeable than Bowling Green’s or Texas A&M’s, rushing for 336 yards and throwing for 219.
Although UT made some impressive defensive stands in the opening half and early in the third quarter, the wall began to break down at about the same time as the power-packing punch of the Bray-led offense faltered.
The defense surrendered big plays that gave Florida momentum and the lead late in the third quarter, and the offensive line didn’t seem to be able to give Bray as much time as he needed to get the ball to receivers when the Vols still had a chance to come back.
“Tyler was working through the game pretty good,” Dooley said. “At the end, I don’t know how much to put it on Tyler. We lost a little juice at the end.
“We had a great game going and let it slip away. We’ve got to move on and make sure we don’t make those kind of mistakes again.”
Bray, who threw for 643 yards and six touchdowns in his first two outings, didn’t have terrible numbers against the Florida defense — 257 yards and two TDs — but the Gators picked him off twice and converted both turnovers into touchdowns.
“We knew it would be us who stopped us,” Bray said. And that’s exactly what happened.
“It’s the same old deal,” said Dooley, who caught a third-down pass overthrown by Bray as the contest wound to a close.
He spiked the ball — and it wasn’t in celebration.
Dr. Leonard Butts is sports editor emeritus and currently tutoring writing at Pellissippi State. He wrote from Knoxville.