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Florida extends Tennessee’s recent SEC futility

Florida's R.J. Raymond (45) catches a pass for a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Published Sep. 23, 2018
Updated Sep. 23, 2018

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — On an evening in which Tennessee honored its 1998 national championship squad, the current crop of Vols managed to offset the whole nostalgic shindig.

By making the 2018 Gators resemble a national championship-caliber club.

A once-storied series that has provided many indelible moments provided some incompetent ones early on, courtesy of the hosts.

Once the slapstick subsided on the warm night, Florida had exited Neyland Stadium with a 47-21 victory Saturday before an announced crowd of 100,027.

Can't spell ineptitude without U-T. The Vols (2-2, 0-1 SEC) now have lost 10 consecutive conference games; Florida snapped a six-game SEC skid.

Not exactly Manning-Wuerffel melodrama.

Subtract the flubs, and this was statistically an even matchup. After all, both teams totaled 204 first-half yards, and the Gators (3-1, 1-1) finished with only a 387-364 advantage.

But Tennessee committed six turnovers in the game's first 35 minutes, and the Gators converted four of those into points.

"Six turnovers led to 24 points, and we won by 26. I mean, there it is," Gators coach Dan Mullen said.

"So we created the big plays. We had a bunch of big plays and some explosive plays on offense. What I've got to see out of us is a little bit more consistency though, of our performance."

One of the two miscues that Florida didn't exploit might have served as a microcosm of Tennessee's evening.

Down 23-3, Tennessee quarterback Jarrett Guarantano found tight end Austin Pope isolated near the Vols sideline. But Pope was run down by C.J. Henderson near the goal line and fumbled the ball into the end zone, resulting in a touchback.

"To me, that was the game-changing play," Mullen said.

It was hardly Tennessee's first forced error of the night.

On UT's fifth offensive play, a blind-side shot by edge rusher Jachai Polite jarred the ball from Guarantano, and junior linebacker David Reese — playing his first game of the season — recovered.

Four plays later, quarterback Feleipe Franks found redshirt senior R.J. Raymond — who entered the game with no collegiate receptions —for a 1-yard touchdown pass and 7-0 Florida lead.

On the ensuing Tennessee drive, reserve tackle Luke Ancrum stepped in front of a third-and-23 screen pass by Guarantano, and returned it to the 7. Franks scored from the 1 two plays later.

Toss in a 65-yard scoring pass from Franks to Freddie Swain, a field goal (after a Vols fumble) and a safety, and Florida entered halftime with a 26-3 lead.

Sixteen seconds into the second half, it was 30-3. The Vols fumbled the kickoff, and Jordan Scarlett (11 carries, 77 yards) scored from 19 yards a play later.

Before you could say 20-year anniversary, a six-digit crowd had dissolved to five. By the time Franks connected with Tyrie Cleveland for a 38-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, it had dissolved into the low fives.
And Florida had its first victory against a Power Five opponent since a 38-24 win against Vanderbilt on Sept. 30, 2017.

"It's just through the roof," Swain said. "The defense knows we've got their back, and we know the defense has got our back. So when we play with confidence and execute at the level we did tonight, it's hard to beat us."

Break up the Gators.

And while you're at it, reboot this rivalry.
Contact Joey Knight at Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.