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.