KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — As the HBC might quip, you can’t spell turnover without UT.
The Florida Gators, along with some help from the erring Vols, turned the school on Rocky Top into the University of Turnover on Saturday night before 100,027 stunned fans at Neyland Stadium.
Benefiting from six turnovers — four that led directly to 24 points for the Gators and a fifth that basically took seven points off the scoreboard for UT — Florida silenced the big crowd, rolling to a 47-21 victory that generates some momentum as UF (3-1, 1-1 SEC) heads into the heart of its league schedule.
UT falls to 2-2 and 0-1.
“Six turnovers,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “That’s unbelievable. You get that huge turnover advantage.
“I love the big plays. You come on the road and create turnovers and create big plays.”
The 47 points are the most ever scored by the Gators in Neyland Stadium.
The point total ballooned thanks to the turnovers, which came fast and furious early in the game and set the tone again on the opening kickoff in the second half.
“When you get that many possessions from the defense, it puts us in good field position to get touchdowns,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “You’ve got to capitalize.”
That’s exactly what the Gators did.
“They gave us some different looks (on defense) that created negative plays,” UT coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “Turnovers, just too much to overcome. It’s something we focus on every day, not giving them up.
“Not to take anything away from Florida because they had an excellent game plan. They executed better than we did and that’s on me and our coaching staff. You’ve got to give Florida credit for outplaying us for 60 minutes tonight.”
UF could not have gotten off to a better start — or the Vols a worse one.
A fumble and an interception on the Vols’ first two possessions led to two quick touchdowns — a 1-yard pass from Franks to tight end R.J. Raymond and a 1-yard run by Franks that put the Gators up 14-0 with 4:52 left in the first quarter.
The fumble came when rush end Jachai Polite hit UT quarterback Jarrett Guarantano from behind in the pocket, knocking out the ball, which fell into the arms of middle linebacker David Reese II on the Vols 21.
On the next possession, defensive tackle Luke Ancrum intercepted a screen pass and returned it to the UT 7.
“We turned the ball over in our own territory a lot,” Pruitt said. “And we didn’t hold them to field goals.”
The Vols’ third fumble of the half, and fourth turnover of the first half, was recovered by defensive tackle Khairi Clark and eventually led to a field goal in the closing seconds that gave the Gators’ a commanding 26-3 halftime lead.
Before that, two other critical plays went in Florida’s favor.
Early in the second quarter, rush end Cece Jefferson tackled running back Tim Jordan in the end zone for a safety and two points.
Later in the quarter, with UF leading 23-3, wide open UT tight end Austin Pope caught a pass deep down the sideline on fourth down and appeared headed for a touchdown. But he was tracked down by cornerback CJ Henderson, who forced a fumble inside the 5-yard line that rolled out of the end zone for a touchback.
“That to me was the play of the game,” Mullen said. “It was a huge play.”
It was clearly a forced fumble on Henderson’s part. He sprinted all the way from the other side of the field to nail Pope when it appeared he was going to score.
“I thought he had the ball high and tight,” Pruitt said of Pope. “He’s got to finish down here on the goal line.”
The Pope fumble was demoralizing. The next turnover was pretty much a game-ender, and it came on the opening kickoff of the second half.
UT returner Shawn Shamburger was hit by safety Brad Stewart, who dislodged the ball, and cornerback Brian Edwards recovered it on the UT 19.
On the next play, tailback Jordan Scarlett bulled his way through the UT defense for a 19-yard TD run that put the Gators in complete control, 33-3.
UT went on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to 33-13, but Franks answered with a 38-yard TD pass to Tyrie Cleveland.
Jeremy Banks scored on a 2-yard run to cut the UF lead to 40-21 with 5:04 left to play.
But, again, the Gators had an emphatic answer — a 47-yard TD run by true freshman Dameon Pierce with 4:54 to close out the victory.
The Gators, who seemed to be possibly heading in the wrong direction two weeks ago after the home loss to Kentucky, now have some momentum heading deeper into SEC play.
“We have some solid potential here,” Mullen said. “We have to take advantage of it quickly.”
Who: Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) vs. No. 14 Mississippi State (3-1, 0-1)
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field, Starkville, Miss.
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850