Florida surges past Tennessee in second half

The SportsXchange

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Leading up to Saturday's SEC showdown, some doubted whether Florida had enough playmakers to keep up with the loaded Tennessee offense.

Turns out, the Gators had plenty.

Trey Burton's 80-yard touchdown run changed the momentum in the second half and sparked No. 17 Florida to its eighth straight win over the Volunteers, 37-20 at a packed Neyland Stadium.

Burton scored twice and Jeff Driskel threw two second-half touchdown passes as the Gators won a battle of two programs trying to climb back up the SEC totem pole.

Trailing 20-13 in the third quarter, Burton took a direct snap and headed down the sideline, delivering a stiff-arm to Tennessee defensive back Marsalis Teague on his way to the end zone.

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray would throw his second interception on the ensuing possession, setting up the Gators' go-ahead scoring drive. Mike Gillislee had a 45-yard run before Driskel went play-action and hit Jordan Reed at the front pylon to put Florida ahead 27-20 late in third quarter.

The Volunteers would never recover.

Driskel delivered the clincher with a 75-yard touchdown pass to Frankie Hammond Jr. on third down with 10 minutes left in fourth quarter.

Florida (3-0, 2-0 SEC) already has two conference road wins and looks to be an improving team that's capable of challenging in the East Division. The Gators are off to their second straight 3-0 start under coach Will Muschamp.

"This is a totally different 3-0. Played better teams and we're a much better team than a year ago," Muschamp said.

Tennessee (2-1, 0-1 SEC) had the momentum after A.J. Johnson scored on a short run on its opening possession of the second half. Derrick Brodus missed the extra-point attempt, keeping the Volunteers' lead at 20-13.

Bray, the more heralded of the two quarterbacks, couldn't rally the Vols and completed only 1 of 9 passes in the fourth quarter. One of Bray's last incompletions was snagged out of bounds by coach Derek Dooley, who spiked the ball on the ground in disgust.

"I thought we had a good game going until late in the third," Dooley said. "We just gave up some huge carries, and we really couldn't get it going on offense. I give Florida a lot of credit. They did a real good job late in the third, early in the fourth, and we never really could recover."

Driskel completed 14 of 20 passes for 219 yards and added 73 yards rushing.

Bray got off to a shaky start. He threw his first interception of the season on the Volunteers' second possession, when Florida lineman Lerentee McCray dropped back over the middle in coverage and grabbed Bray's pass.

McCray's pick set up Florida's first score, a 14-yard run by Burton out of the wildcat formation that put the Gators up 7-0 in the first quarter. It was Bray's first interception of the season.

Bray got going on the Vols' third possession, hooking up with Justin Hunter on a 41-yard completion to the Florida 18. Three plays later, he hit a slanting Cordarelle Patterson, who went inside of corner Louchelz Purifoy for the tying score.

The 2-yard completion from Bray to Patterson was Tennessee's first touchdown in the first quarter against Florida since 2004.

A back-and-forth first half was marred by 12 penalties and slowed by multiple officials' reviews.

Tennessee took the lead on a 16-play, 76-yard scoring drive that included a fourth-and-10 conversion and was capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass from Bray to tight end Mychal Rivera in the back corner of the end zone.

Driskel made two big plays on Florida's last drive of the first half, a 28-yard scramble and 17-yard completion to Solomon Patton that set up Caleb Sturgis' short field goal to cut the Tennessee lead to 14-10 at intermission.

The Volunteers will look to regroup against Akron next week before venturing into the most difficult stretch of its season. After Akron, the Volunteers go to No. 7 Georgia and Mississippi State before returning home to face No. 1 Alabama and then finish up October at No. 9 South Carolina.

Florida returns home to face Kentucky before a bye week. No. 3 LSU visits the Swamp on Oct. 6.

"We're not where we need to be, but we're closer than we've been," Muschamp said. "We haven't arrived."

NOTES: Tennessee retired former running back Johnny Majors' No. 45 before the game. Majors was the SEC Player of the Year in 1955 and 1956 and the Heisman Trophy runner-up to Notre Dame's Paul Hornung in 1956. Majors coached Tennessee from 1977-92. ... Florida linebacker Jelani Jenkins and defensive back Cody Riggs were held out with injuries. ... Gillislee (groin) did not start but entered the game on the Gators' second series. ... Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter tore his ACL last year against Florida. Hunter had five catches for 76 yards. ... Touted freshman wide receiver Alton "Pig" Howard made his Volunteers debut after missing the first two games with a foot injury. ... The official attendance was 102,455.
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