KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Urban Meyer knew entering Saturday's game that Tennessee would do everything in its power to keep the ball away from punt and kickoff returner Brandon James.
So he decided to force their hand. By putting James and WR Percy Harvin side by side, the Vols had to choose between two of the Gators' fastest players. The result was costly.
James returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown with 4:42 remaining in the first quarter to give Florida a 17-0 lead on its way to a 30-6 win. It was his second career touchdown return against the Vols.
"I don't know what it is," James said. "I think I just get up for the rivalry. I just try to bring my best game when I play these guys. Playing against Tennessee, you have to get up for a big game like this."
Saturday, James had two punt returns for 92 yards and returned the opening kickoff 52 yards to set up a touchdown. He is now 7 yards shy of the school record for punt returns held by Keiwan Ratliff (860 from 2000-03). James also tied the school record for touchdowns off punt returns with four.
"I thought the one against Hawaii (on Aug. 30) was the best one I've seen, but he topped it," Meyer said. "That might have been the best one I've seen. He even said to me, 'That might have been my best.' "
SPIKES REDEEMED: Florida junior LB Brandon Spikes took a lot of heat last week after he said he believes Tennessee players quit during last year's 59-20 loss to the Gators. The Tennessee message boards lit up with angry words about Spikes.
Saturday, Spikes led the Gators with 10 tackles (seven solo) and said he was targeted quite a bit during the game. Tennessee RB Arian Foster was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for pushing Spikes after a play during the first quarter.
"Tensions were flaring the whole game," Spikes said. "This was a rivalry game. It was big. I think the way we came out kind of bothered them.
"I was just trying to stay focused and get the guys around me going."
HOLD THE MUSIC: Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and his good friend, country music singer Kenny Chesney, had a little gentlemen's agreement going into the game.
If Tennessee won, Tebow had to sing Rocky Top for Chesney. If Florida won, Chesney promised to perform We are the Boys from Ol' Florida.
After the game, Tebow said ESPN's characterization of it as "a bet" was a bit overstated and the two were just having fun with each other.
TAKING THE BLAME: With fans pouring out of the stadium long before the game ended and lots of grumbling, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said he knows fans are disappointed in the team's 1-2 start. He said afterward all of the blame for the Vols' performance against Florida rests with him.
"As I told our team in the locker room, that loss is on me," Fulmer said.
"I've got big shoulders, and I take responsibility. That wasn't us."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]