Saturday, April 21, 2018
Colleges

Florida Gators overcome penalties, defensive matchup issues

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Florida was plagued by penalties against Tennessee for the second straight year, but that didn't stop the Gators from extending their win streak over their division rivals in a 37-20 victory Saturday.

Florida committed eight penalties for 78 yards, much of those coming in the secondary.

The Vols' starting receivers, Cordarrelle Patterson (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) and Justin Hunter (6-4, 200), created matchup problems for Florida's defensive backs because of their size. The Gators secondary was called for pass interference twice and holding once. Another holding call was declined when the Vols converted a third and 11.

"A lot of those were bang-bang plays down the field," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "If they call pass interference, it's pass interference."

A pass-interference call on cornerback Marcus Roberson in the first quarter on a throw intended for Hunter turned what would have been a third-and-9 situation for the Vols into a first and goal on the 2-yard line. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray completed a touchdown pass to Patterson on the next play to tie the score at 7.

"Obviously Justin and 84 (Patterson) is pretty good," cornerback Jaylen Watkins said. "So we were trying to get our hands on them a little bit, and it kind of got a little physical."

After a drive that gave the Vols a 14-7 lead with 8:40 remaining in the second quarter, the Gators had the ball in a second-and-10 situation on their own 43.

A 1-yard run from former Armwood High standout Matt Jones would have put Florida in third and 9, but that turned into third and 24 when left tackle Xavier Nixon was called for unsportsmanlike conduct because he took his helmet off on the field. The Gators gained just 10 yards on third down and were forced to punt.

"I think he took his helmet off, and you can't do that," Muschamp said. "You can't. It's losing your poise. It's not being very smart. And he knows better than that. He's a senior. That'll be addressed. We don't sit there and pretend it's okay. It's addressed."

Florida defensive end Dominique Easley gave Tennessee a first down on the 3-yard line when he was called for roughing the passer on a second-down incompletion from the 6-yard line. A.J. Johnson ran it in two plays later from the 1-yard line to give the Volunteers a 20-13 lead in the third quarter.

In 2011, the Gators finished 112th in Division I-A with 7.7 penalties per game. In their season opener against Bowling Green, the issue persisted as they were flagged 14 times for 106 yards. Muschamp said afterward that he had run out of ways to address the penalty issue with the team.

In the SEC-opening victory against Texas A&M last week, Florida finally responded to its coach with just three penalties for 21 yards, so Watkins knows the team needs to play with more discipline and is capable of doing so.

"We obviously want to be cleaner than that," Watkins said. "But this was a physical game on both sides of the ball, so that's why there was so many penalties.

"I believe it's going to be like that when you're playing hard."

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