Florida went close to 115 minutes into the 2017 season before scoring an offensive touchdown.
But thanks to a reliable senior, Florida’s offense was able to hit paydirt and put six points on the board.
Senior receiver Brandon Powell scored UF’s first touchdown of the season on a 5-yard catch and run TD, putting the Gators up 20-10 with 5:13 left in the fourth quarter.
“At that time, all I was thinking about was winning,” Powell said. “That’s what I was thinking about. I wasn’t even worried about the first to score or anything.”
The play was set up by a 12-yard run by Florida senior running back Mark Thompson, giving the Gators first-and-goal at Tennessee’s 5-yard line. Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier then went with a play-action play. Florida redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks fired a pass to Powell at the two-yard line, and Powell was able to elude Tennessee defenders and dive into the end zone for his seventh career TD catch.
Powell credited blocks by receivers Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain on the play as well.
“Coach Nuss, he made a good call on the play,” Powell said. “Feleipe, he made the read and threw the ball. If it wasn’t for Freddie and Josh, I would have never scored on that play. They made two great blocks on the outside. That’s what helped me score.”
Florida nearly had its first touchdown of the season earlier in the fourth quarter, but freshman running back Malik Davis was stripped near the goal line on a breakaway 72-yard run. The play was initially called a touchdown but reversed after video replay. Tennessee defensive back Justin Martin forced the fumble.
“It was a heckuva play by their guy,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said.
Callaway, Scarlett still suspended
Florida junior receiver Antonio Callaway and junior running back Jordan Scarlett were among nine players suspended for Saturday’s game against Tennessee. The suspension, so far at two games, remains indefinite pending the completion of a UPD investigation into allegations of debit card fraud.
“One of the things that happens is you are missing a bunch of guys and now, the rep multiplier, that happens to you, the guys have got to be backups now on special teams that were starters, to be able to have the depth,” McElwain said. “And I do think when you lose some guys you are close to, that’s human nature. But I will say this, this was a pretty good remedy for that.”
Also still suspended are defensive lineman Richerd Desir-Jones, defensive lineman Keivonnis Davis, linebacker James Houston, linebacker Ventrell Miller, offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort and defensive lineman Jordan Smith.
Kicking woes for Vols
Tennessee’s kicking problems helped contribute to UF’s win on Saturday. The Vols made just 2 of 5 field goal attempts, with kicker Aaron Medley missing a 44-yard attempt and kicker Brent Cimaglia missing on attempts of 47 and 51 yards.
“Sometimes you need to score touchdowns instead of kicking long field goals,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
Meanwhile, Florida junior kicker Eddy Pineiro made both of his field goal attempts from 27 and 41 yards, helping stake the Gators to a 6-3 lead. Pineiro improved to 3 for 4 on the season and 24 for 28 in his UF career.
Dawson suffers head injury
Florida cornerback Duke Dawson left the game in the second half with a head injury. Dawson came up with his second interception of the season and fourth career interception in the third quarter, keeping the Gators up 6-3 with a diving pick at Tennessee’s 1-yard line.
With Dawson out, Florida went with a pair of true freshmen corners in the fourth quarter — Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson.
“There were a bunch of rookies in there running around and doing some things,” McElwain said. “That will be a cherished memory for those rookies.”
Goolsby still out
Senior tight end DeAndre Goolsby (leg) dressed but did not play on Saturday against Tennessee. Goolsby, UF’s third-leading receiver with 342 yards and three TDs last season, was hurt early in UF’s season-opener against Michigan.
Of UF’s 18 completions, only two went to tight ends. Junior tight end Moral Stephens had a 10-yard catch, his first since Sept. 10, 2016 against Kentucky. Junior tight end C’yontai Lewis had one catch for 3 yards, but also had a pass go through his hands that resulted in an interception by Tennessee defensive back Rashaan Gaulden in the fourth quarter.
Former Gator coach and Heisman Trophy winner Steve Spurrier was honored on the field during the break between the first and second game for his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach.
Spurrier is the first person to be inducted into College Football Hall of Fame as a player and coach. The Head Ball Coach led UF to its first national title in 1996 and won the Heisman Trophy in 1966 as UF’s starting quarterback.
Before the game, Florida was presented the Gatehouse Media All-Sports Trophy, awarded to Florida for being the best all-around athletic program in the SEC. … Captains for the game were safety Nick Washington, punter Johnny Townsend, wide receiver Josh Hammond and linebacker Garrett Stephens. … Gator and Olympic swimming standout Caleb Dressel served as the honorary “Mr. Two Bits.” Last July, Dressel won seven gold medals and set numerous American records at the 2017 World Aquatics Championships in Budapest, Hungary. … Florida donated 200 tickets to Hurricane Irma first responders and evacuees and passed along the $4,000 in value of those tickets for Irma relief funds. … Florida improved to 12-1 at The Swamp under McElwain. … The Gators also won their 13th straight SEC opener.