September 8, 2012
Formalities over, it's Florida Week
Florida had a head-start. Tennessee had an easier day. And thus it went Saturday inside Neyland Stadium, where the Volunteers' home opener was met with physical superiority and generous doses of disinterest.
That Tennessee won, 51-13, almost felt ancillary. This game was about surviving, moving forward without incurring additional injuries or compounding those to linebackers Herman Lathers and Curt Maggitt, both of whom sat out.
About knowing another level must be attained to knock off Florida here in a week to snap a seven-game hex.
There were highlights, for sure. Justin Hunter needed this, an eight-catch, 146-yard day that featured Hunter's three receiving touchdowns and marked the first such performance by a Vols wideout in nine years. Cordarrelle Patterson built upon his nationally acclaimed debut with 195 all-purpose yards, including a 61-yard kickoff return.
"It means a lot. It's a rival game," Hunter said. "We've lost to them the last (seven) seasons. I'm just going to go out there and play my hardest."
And Tyler Bray certainly sizzled, completing 18 of 20 passes for 310 yards and four touchdowns. Further, Bray knows it could've been better. Bray missed Mychal Rivera early on a seam pass.
Some 10 Vols made their debuts in the game. Yet for all the people who wanted to see Quenshaun Watson run --- he didn't disappoint with 27 yards, a long of 15 and a hard-earned touchdown --- there were as many who couldn't divert attention from the Gators' progress in College Station, Texas.
"It was a good win, but as in any game, there were a lot of mistakes and a lot of concerns so we've got to work on that next week. That's what we'll do," said coach Derek Dooley. "We came out and we didn't have the spunk I was hoping to have. We put together a really good first drive and scored. That was a good drive. They had seven fumbles and we recovered one, so that's kind of a sign of the tenacity. We did a good job, and in the third quarter we came out and imposed our will a little bit, which was good."
At 4 p.m., just before UT kicked off, Florida got a rushing touchdown to claim a 7-3 lead. It would be more than two hours later before the Gators could again command the lead.
Around 6:13, Florida got a go-ahead touchdown after trailing 17-7, 17-10 and then 17-13 throughout the interior moments of the game. There were Gators getting knocked out of the contest with rapidity; they needed more linebackers, and needed quarterback Jeff Driskel to get hit less.
Yet it was Driskel who iced the Gators' win after first-year A&M coach Kevin Sumlin elected to punt the ball away inside the final four minutes, all of his timeouts remaining, and near his own 40-yard line. The Aggies would never get the ball again on offense; Driskel, pounded all day, instead broke loose on a deftly called and executed second-down bootleg play.
At 6:50, Derrick Brodus drills a field goal here in Knoxville for the Vols to lead 44-6, and the Gators polish off the Aggies in one of the national showcase games.
Florida will again enter Knoxville undefeated and nationally ranked; Tennessee may well crack the national polls on Sunday as well.
"I think it's going to be big. At the same time, I think we are going to win just because of how hard we work," said defensive lineman Darrington Sentimore. "We have a good offense and we have a great defense."
All in all, we learned little more about Tennessee and saw that Florida probably possesses a touch more mettle than perhaps believed a week ago.
So the Vols won. The Gators won.
Now this week, it's all about Florida-Tennessee and national TV and which team asserts itself in the SEC Eastern Division race.
"I just checked (Florida's final score)," Gainesville, Fla., native and Vols linebacker Jordan Williams said. "We definitely wanted (the Gators) to go in there undefeated. We've been talking about that game since January. I mean, that's the one everybody wants and that's the one the fans want."
At least we all can focus on the same thing this week.
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