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PREPPING FOR VOLS

The Gators say early mistakes against Troy are a good learning experience for Tennessee's visit.

It's not what they had anticipated at all, based on the game film they'd watched all week, but in hindsight Florida's game against Troy may have been exactly what it needed.

The Trojans broke out an unusual defense the Gators weren't prepared for and Florida had six fumbles (three lost) before overcoming a sluggish start on its way to a 56-6 victory over Troy on a rainy afternoon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday.

Now with Charleston Southern and Troy safely in the record books, the No. 1 Gators (2-0) are free to turn their full attention to next Saturday's SEC East opener, at home against rival Tennessee.

"We're thinking about Tennessee right now, to be honest with you," senior linebacker Ryan Stamper said shortly after the game.

But for about 20 minutes Saturday afternoon, it looked as if Troy (0-2) might give the Gators a run for their money. The Trojans held Florida to seven points and 73 yards in the first quarter.

"It was a little bit frustrating, but I think it was good, honestly, for our team," said Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who was 15-of-24 for 237 yards and four touchdowns, and rushed for 71 yards and a rushing touchdown. "Our offense wasn't going well, we had some turnovers, I fumbled the ball.

"You know that's good. It's good for our offense to have to lean on our defense, and then also to say here we go, it's time to step it up, let's go make some plays. Even though it wasn't totally back against the wall, it's good to get that under your belt and be able to feel that as an offense, as a team. Okay, things aren't going well, how are we going to respond? I think we responded pretty well."

Especially in the second quarter.

On the first drive of the second quarter, Tebow fumbled, giving Troy possession at Florida's 40. Tebow's fumble was the second of the game - tailback Emmanuel Moody's fumble in the first quarter led to a 45-yard field goal by Sam Glusman to pull the Trojans within 7-3 with 51 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

But Troy's drive after Tebow's fumble ended when the Trojans fumbled the snap on a field goal attempt that would have pulled them within one with 13:47 remaining in the first half.

The Gators scored 28 in a span of 9:01 to take a 35-3 halftime lead. Florida was 16 yards shy of another touchdown when the clock ran out at the half.

Tebow, who has a nation-leading 30 consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass, connected with three players for touchdown passes: Deonte Thompson (6 and 33 yards), Riley Cooper (36 yards) and Brandon James (32 yards). His 4-yard run with 8:04 to play in the first half marked his 45th career rushing touchdown, tying him with Auburn's Cadillac Williams (2001-04) for third in the SEC. Running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey combined for 172 yards.

After using the season-opener against Charleston Southern as a dress rehearsal for its inexperienced players, Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said he intended to "throw everything at them" this week.

Florida forced four fumbles (two lost) and Janoris Jenkins grabbed the Gators' first interception of the season.

"Thank God for great defense and the kicking game," Meyer said. "Defense was the name of the game."

Florida outgained Troy 663-139.

"We just close our eyes and pretend we never came here," Troy coach Larry Blakeney said. "I know that's not the best thing, and it will always be in the back of our mind. But hopefully since we've seen the biggest, seen the best, we will learn from this experience."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3389. Check out her blog at blogs.tampabay.com/gators.

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