😅😅😅— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) September 24, 2022
Tennessee vs. Florida score, takeaways: No. 11 Vols look legit beating No. 20 Gators for first time since 2016
The Vols topped the Gators for just the second time in 18 tries since 2004
The losing streak is over. No. 11 Tennessee beat No. 20 Florida 38-33 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, with the Volunteers defeating the Gators for the first time since 2016 and second time since 2004. Though Tennessee led by as many as 17 points, Florida battled back late with a touchdown in the game's final minute and recovered an onside kick for a last-gasp effort with 16 seconds remaining before ultimately falling short.
Hendon Hooker took advantage of a porous Florida secondary in the second half to pass for 340 yards in the game, the most by a Vols quarterback against the Gators since 1997. Hooker's magnificent game also included 112 yards rushing and and three total touchdowns (one rushing). It was the kind of performance that will gain a lot more Heisman Trophy hype for the Vols signal caller -- and deservedly so.
Though it was in a losing effort, Florida QB Anthony Richardson righted himself after a couple rough weeks with a career passing performance. Richardson threw for a career-high 453 yards and two touchdowns, running for 62 more yards and another two scores. His lone disaster play was a fumble in the red zone late in the second half, though he was also hit on a Hail Mary in the final play of the game that resulted in an interception.
With the win, Tennessee improves to 4-0 for the first time in six years and now looks to be the primary contender in the SEC East behind defending national champion Georgia. Florida fell to 2-2 on the year with both losses coming to SEC opponents giving the Gators their first 0-2 start in league play since 1986.
With the SEC East now seemingly out of Florida's hands, its primary goal will be improving each week and reaching a bowl game. Given the Gators have already played three top-25 opponents in four weeks and still have Georgia as well as road games at Texas A&M and Florida State over the second half of the season, that goal is far from guaranteed.
Here are some top takeaways from a high-scoring affair at Neyland Stadium.
1. Hooker is about to be a significant part of the Heisman conversation: While there has been no shortage of quarterbacks who have put up video game numbers playing in Josh Heupel's offenses, Hooker is so much more than numbers right now. It's the throws he's making, when he's making them and how he's making them. Few quarterbacks in the country process things with his speed and make quick, and more importantly, correct decisions repeatedly.
Oh, and the numbers are pretty good, too as it was only the second time since coming to Knoxville that Hooker has rushed for over 100 yards in a game. He did it once last season. Hooker's now up to eight passing touchdowns without an interception this season. Going back to the start of the 2021 campaign, he has thrown 39 touchdowns with three interceptions. Those are incredible numbers, and he's doing so in the country's most difficult conference.
The problem Hooker's Heisman case will face is that, as good as this Tennessee team may be, it's not likely to compete for a national championship. Its defensive flaws were on display in this game, even in victory, and it's hard to imagine that not biting it eventually. Particularly with games remaining against Georgia, Alabama and Kentucky. Given the nature of the sport, it's hard to win a Heisman if you're not playing for a national title contender, but Hooker is playing every bit as well as Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud or any other player whose name you hear mentioned with the award.
2. There's concerns with Tennessee's run game: Florida's defense had struggled mightily against the run in its first three games. Its inability to stop it was the primary reason the Gators struggled so badly with South Florida last week. Because of this, Saturday looked to be a good time for the Vols to get their ground game going. While Hooker had a terrific day on the ground, the Tennessee rushing attack wasn't great without him. Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright combined for 115 yards on 29 carries (3.97 per touch), though both scored touchdowns. Small helped in the passing game, too, catching three passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. Still, with more challenging games against better defenses in the future, you'd like to see more balance on the Tennessee offense if it wants to have a realistic chance of beating SEC powers Alabama and Georgia.
3. Bru McCoy is a weapon. It's been a long, strange journey for McCoy, a former five-star recruit who has seemingly attended more schools than games played in his college career, but he was a featured member of the Tennessee offense today. The Vols were missing second-leading receiver Cedric Tillman due to injury, and McCoy stepped right into his role and played well. He caught five passes for 102 yards and a touchdown with a big gain of 70 yards on one reception. Given his size and speed, it's not hard to figure out why he was so highly rated out of high school, nor is it difficult to imagine all the ways the Tennessee offense could use him.
4. An encouraging game for Richardson. If you look at the final stat line, you'll see that Richardson had an interception and a fumble. However, the pick came on a Hail Mary heave at the end of the game. Richardson also had the best passing game of his career, completing 24 of 44 passes for a career-high 453 yards and two touchdowns. He was just as lethal on the ground, rushing for 62 yards and two more scores. Richardson's 515 total yards were the second-most in Florida history, behind a record set by Tim Tebow.
While Florida didn't win, Richardson did everything he could to keep the Gators in the game. This was his best performance since the season-opening win against Utah. While that game raised expectations too high for both Richardson and the Gators, this was an excellent reminder of what he is capable of achieving. You'd like to see a much higher completion rate, but Richardson has such a high ceiling due to his arm strength and running ability.
5. Billy Napier does not coach scared: Florida faced a fourth-and-1 at the UF 39 on its first possession of the game. Napier went for it. On the road, in a rivalry game, most coaches punt there, but Napier realized Florida had no shot of winning this game playing field position. The Gators went for it again later in the same drive and were stopped, but that did not deter Napier from being aggressive.
The Gators went for it on fourth down six times in this game -- and not just due to desperation late. The Gators converted 5 of 6 attempts, including four straight to end the game. Florida was also 7 of 15 on third down as Napier, in many situations, ran the ball knowing he was OK with it being four-down territory. It will be interesting to see if Napier continues this approach -- the Gators only went for it on fourth down five times in their first three games -- or if this was specific to the Tennessee game.
INTERCEPTION— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) September 24, 2022
FINAL: TENNESSEE 38, FLORIDA 33
Anthony Richardson is pressured on the Hail Mary attempt, causing his throw to come up way short and it's picked off. Game over. The Vols have won.
FLORIDA RECOVERS THE KICK!!!!!!!!!
The Gators score but can't convert the two-pointer. It's 38-33 with 17 seconds left. Florida needs to convert the onside kick and then score a TD somehow. Are we on the verge of another miracle?
GAMBLERS HOLDING THEIR BREATH
Florida has a 2nd and goal at the UT3 with 21 seconds remaining. They need to score, convert an onside kick, and score again to force OT, but we've seen crazier things happen. But remember: the spread for this game was 10.5. Even if Florida doesn't complete the comeback, there are a lot of people sweating these final 21 seconds.
THAT'S GOING TO AFFECT GAMBLERS
While it isn't going to change the outcome of the game in all likelihood, Florida gets another touchdown to cut the Tennessee lead to 38-27. That cashes the over for some, but Florida's 2-point conversion is no good, so it's still 38-27. If you had Tennessee -10.5, you're thrilled! If you bet Florida +10.5, not so much!
THIS FINAL EIGHT MINUTES IS DEDICATED TO THE GAMBLERS
The spread closed with Tennessee as a 10.5-point favorite. The total closed at 62.5 points. Both are still in question as we play the final half of the fourth quarter. If you bet on either, I wish you the best of luck.
GAME OVER, MAN. GAME OVER
That should just about do it. Jaylen Wright scores off-tackle from five yards out to make it a 38-21 Tennessee lead with only 7:55 left to play. The Vols slowed things down a little that drive, going 87 yards on 10 plays and taking 4:39 off the clock. That's basically their version of the triple-option offense. The Vols are up to 564 yards of offense and are averaging 8.8 yards per play. I'm not a scientist, but I did take AP Chemistry, so I feel I'm qualified to tell you that it's very hard to lose games when you average 8.8 yards per play.
I think that's game. Florida had a nice drive going, and reached the red zone, but that's where Anthony Richardson was stripped by Tennessee's Omari Thomas and Jeremy Banks got on the ball for the Vols. That's a huge play in this game. The Florida defense is in desparate need of a three-and-out, or at the very least, a quick punt or turnover.