13th win in 14 seasons for Florida over Tennessee
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee’s inability to hang on to the football assured that Florida would continue its mastery of this annual series.
Feleipe Franks threw touchdown passes to three different receivers and ran for a fourth score Saturday as Florida capitalized on six Tennessee turnovers in a 47-21 rout of the Volunteers.
Four of Tennessee’s turnovers led to 24 points for Florida. Tennessee also gave up a safety and cost itself a touchdown by fumbling a ball out of the end zone for a touchback.
“Winning the turnover battle is such a huge deal,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “I told our guys, you play hard (and) it’s amazing the ball bounces into the guy’s hands that plays really hard. If you play with great effort, all of a sudden, lo and behold, the ball bounces into (your) hands.”
Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) beat Tennessee (2-2, 0-1) for the 13th time in the last 14 seasons and posted its highest point total ever at Neyland Stadium. The Gators had won 43-30 at Tennessee in 1984.
Tennessee has lost its last 10 games against Power Five opponents since beating Georgia Tech in overtime to open the 2017 season.
“We turned the ball over way too many times, made too many mistakes (and) just didn’t execute,” Tennessee center Ryan Johnson said. “We were running the ball well. We were passing the ball well. But we shot ourselves in the foot too many times.”
Franks went 9 of 18 for 172 yards with touchdown passes to R.J. Raymond, Freddie Swain and Tyrie Cleveland.
Florida and Tennessee each gained 204 yards in the first half, but the Gators led 26-3 at the intermission after scoring 17 points off three of Tennessee’s four first-half turnovers. Florida extended the lead to 33-3 on Jordan Scarlett’s 19-yard touchdown run after Tennessee’s Shawn Shamburger fumbled the second-half kickoff.
Florida has 14 takeaways through its first four games.
“We were just hustling to the ball, and it felt like the ball was just on our side,” said Florida linebacker David Reese, who had a team-high 11 tackles and a fumble recovery in his 2018 debut after missing three games with an ankle injury. “I felt like we out-physicaled them and out-toughed them, and we set that standard early in the game.”
One play best exemplified Tennessee’s frustrations.
Tennessee trailed 23-3 in the second quarter when the Vols decided to go for it on fourth-and-inches from their own 45. The gamble appeared to pay off when Jarrett Guarantano threw to a wide-open Austin Pope, who caught the ball inside Florida’s 40 and appeared on his way to the end zone.
But Florida’s CJ Henderson chased down Pope inside the 10 and applied a hit that caused Pope to fumble the ball out of the end zone, turning a potential touchdown into a touchback .
“Really, to me that is the game-changing play,” Mullen said.
Guarantano went 7 of 18 for 164 yards with two interceptions and a fumble for his first three turnovers of the season. He left the game briefly in the second quarter after absorbing a big hit, and another hit knocked him out of the game in the third period.
“I think Jarrett’s going to be fine,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “Jarrett’s tough.”
Florida: The Gators’ high point total is somewhat misleading because so many of the points came off turnovers. The Gators’ offense definitely has big-play ability. Franks had a 65-yard touchdown to Swain and a 38-yarder to Cleveland, while Dameon Pierce added a 47-yard touchdown run. But this offense still must establish some consistency, and Franks still must become a more accurate passer.
Tennessee: After playing turnover-free football in its first two games, Tennessee has committed eight in its last two contests. The Vols can’t afford those types of mistakes to have any chance of winning a game over the next month as they enter the toughest part of their schedule. Tennessee’s next four opponents are No. 2 Georgia, No. 9 Auburn, No. 1 Alabama and South Carolina.
HONORING THE CHAMPS
Florida’s lopsided victory spoiled Tennessee’s 20th-anniversary celebration of its 1998 national championship team . Members of the 1998 team received a hearty ovation when they were introduced during a timeout after the first quarter.
Tennessee’s frustrations were apparent Saturday, as evidenced by the circumstances surrounding linebacker Quart’e Sapp. Pruitt said he told Sapp to leave the field after the junior refused to enter the game.
“I don’t know how things were done before, but when you tell somebody to go in and they refuse to go in, we’re not going to do that around here,” Pruitt said.
Florida already has 10 fumble recoveries this season. The Gators recovered just three fumbles last year.
Florida is at No. 14 Mississippi State on Saturday.
Tennessee visits No. 2 Georgia on Saturday.
By Steve Megargee of the Associated Press.