Florida vs. Tennessee score, takeaways: No. 11 Gators shut out Vols in second half as Emory Jones breaks out
The Gators rebounded from a rough start to win their 16th over the Vols in 17 meetings
No. 11 Florida topped SEC East foe Tennessee 38-14 on Saturday night inside The Swamp in what was an emphatic follow-up to its near-upset of No. 1 Alabama a week ago. The Gators pulled away in the second half, shutting out the Volunteers over the final 30 minutes of the game.
A double-pass touchdown from wide receiver Trent Whittemore to tight end Kemore Gamble pushed the lead to 24-14 after the Gators led by just a field goal at the half. Quarterback Emory Jones hit receiver Rick Wells for a 9-yard touchdown later in the third to push the lead to 31-14, and Florida added a touchdown from running back Malik Davis in the fourth quarter to ice the game -- and cover the 19-point spread.
This is what Florida football is supposed to look like under coach Dan Mullen. The Gators put up 505 total yards, 283 of which were on the ground, and converted 9-of-14 third downs to control the game for the majority of the 60 minutes. Jones finished the night with 209 yards passing, 144 rushing yards and two touchdown tosses, becoming the first Florida quarterback to eclipse the 200-100 mark in the same game since Tim Tebow in 2009.
Tennessee hung tough for a little while. QB Hendon Hooker got the start at quarterback ahead of Joe Milton II, who started the first two games of the season. Hooker went 13-of-23 for 221 yards passing and two touchdowns, including a 75-yarder to JaVonta Payton that gave the Vols a brief 14-10 lead in the second quarter. However, Hooker then sustained a freak injury in the final frame before halftime on a botched flea-flicker. The extent of Hooker's injury is not known at this time.
Here are the top takeaways from Florida's win over Tennessee.
1. It's starting to click for Emory Jones
The dual-threat weapon has been limited as a passer throughout the first three games, but caught fire on the ground last week vs. Alabama in the 31-29 loss. The running game was again the strength of the Gators in the win over the Volunteers, but don't lose sight of what he did through the air.
The 6-foot-2, 212-pounder was wildly efficient, and most importantly, didn't throw an interception. He is the first Florida quarterback to have 200 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in an SEC game since Tebow in 2007. That's a stark contrast to the five interceptions that he tossed over the first two-and-a-half games.
That has put to rest the idea that Anthony Richardson should be the man under center for the Gators ... at least for the time being. If Jones can repeat this kind of performance moving forward, he'll live up to the recruiting hype he arrived at Florida with when Mullen took the job. The running aspect of his game was a known commodity, but this was, by far, the best passing performance of his career.
2. It's Florida's defense … again
The Gators' defense stymied Alabama for the majority of the final three quarters last week, and it was at it again vs. the Vols. They held Heupel's high-octane offense to just 92 passing yards in the second half, despite the fact that the Vols were in obvious passing situations most of the time. Granted, Hooker left with the injury, but the game was long gone at that point.
Is this the real Gators defense? It certainly looks like it.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will still dial up blitzes at inopportune times because that's the way he operates, but this team doesn't let those situations faze them. The 4.3 yards per play they gave up in the second half suggests they are perfectly fine bending, but not breaking.
This is complementary football. It has put Florida in a position in which it looks like it can compete with Georgia for the SEC East.
3. Tennessee is going in the right direction
Let's be real: there's a massive talent gap between Tennessee and Florida, and it's not something that Heupel can fix over two or three recruiting cycles. The lack of depth, especially on defense, was a big reason why the game got away from him. That's OK, because the Vols showed signs of life early and didn't quit. They're on their way to becoming what Heupel wants them to be.
The first-year coach is an offensive guru, and the combination of Hooker and the talented running back duo of Jabari Small and Tiyon Evans looked much more comfortable running this offense than expected.
Patience is the equivalent of a four-letter word on Rocky Top after all that program has gone through over the last decade-plus, but it's also a virtue. If Tennessee fans can hang with this team, that patience should pay off down the line.
Hendon Hooker injured
The starting quarterback for Tennessee was slammed to the ground after an ill-advised flea flicker gone wrong. Tiyon Jones received the handoff and then attempted to pitch it back to Hooker, who fumbled it. He was hit hard in the scramble and tried to get up and walk it off, but went back down to his knees as trainers sprinted out to check him out. Joe Milton, who started the season as QB No. 1 on the Tennessee depth chart, has replaced Hooker for the time being until the medical staff finishes checking him out.
Tennessee just punted on fourth-and-7 from midfield down 31-14 early in the fourth quarter. Josh Heupel makes the big bucks ... but I'm not so sure that was the best course of action considering what Florida's offense has done in the second half.
Florida pulling away
Emory Jones made Tennessee pay for missing the fourth down conversion. He led the Gators on an eight-play, 70-yard drive that concluded with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Rick Wells to make the score 31-14. Jones is 18 of 21 for 182 yards and two touchdowns on the evening. It's a huge turn of events after Tennessee's long drive stalled.
Florida holds on fourth down
Tennessee went for it on fourth-and-five just inside of field goal range, but Herndon Hooker's pass was dropped over the middle. It was the second time that drive that Tennessee went for it, the first of which was converted on a very questionable pick play. Florida coach Dan Mullen was heated on the sideline after the non-call, but the ball didn't lie in the end. Big drive coming up for the Gators.
Tiyon Evans down for Tennessee after breaking into Florida territory. That's something to keep an eye on. Jabari Small has received the majority of the carries tonight, but Evans is a solid contributor to the Volunteer offense.
Florida comes out hot
We talked before the half how important the last five minutes of the second quarter and first five minutes of the third quarter are, and the Gators came out of the locker room hit. Kemore Gamble caught a 14-yard TD from Trent Whittemore on a double pass to push the lead to 24-14. It was the second time in as many weeks that Florida came out of halftime with some new offensive wrinkles that are designed to put defenses on their heels. Mission accomplished yet again. Now Herndon Hooker and the Vols offense have to crank things up because you know that Mullen has plenty more up his sleeve.
Huge defensive play
Half: Florida 17, Tennessee 14
Jacob Copeland caught a pass in the flat on fourth down to keep Florida's drive going ... or so we thought. Alontae Taylor ripped the ball out of Copeland's hands as he was fighting for extra yards to give the Vols the ball at the Gator 15-yard line. It's not going to lead to any points because the half is almost over, but consider that at least three points saved by a defensive play, and potentially seven. The Gators are up 17-14 at halftime.
Jimmy Holliday popped Xzavier Henderson early on a punt return and was called for kick catch interference AND targeting. On top of that, Tennessee also got hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the play. That's three penalties on one play after going three-and-out following the Gator touchdown. The final five minutes of the second quarter and the first five minutes of the third quarter are often times the most important period of the game. Tennessee isn't doing itself any favors shortly before halftime. If Florida scores here, things could get sideways in a hurry.
Florida back on top
The Gators hopped back on top 17-14 after Nay'Quan Wright scampered 23 yards for the score in what was Florida's longest play from scrimmage in the game. Quarterback Emory Jones hit Xzavier Henderson for 20 yards two plays before the score to take some pressure off of the running game, which was part of the reason Wright found daylight in Tennessee territory. The Gators need to see more of this ... enough of Emory Jones through the air in order to keep the Vols defense honest.