Instant takeaways: Florida Gators vs. Tennessee Volunteers

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
View Comments

Behind a career-best performance from Emory Jones, No. 11 Florida overcame an early deficit and cruised to a 38-14 win Saturday over rival Tennessee. 

Jones had his first turnover-free start of the season, threw two touchdowns and accounted for 353 total yards, including 209 yards on 21 of 27 passing. Before a crowd of 88,478 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Jones became the first UF quarterback with 200 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in a game since Tim Tebow in 2009 (Florida State). 

"I think you see him really settling down and understanding," Florida coach Dan Mullen said of Jones. "I think he did a great job making his reads, managing the offense, getting us in the right checks, into the right plays. Decision-making was pretty good in the pass game and then obviously scrambling."

After being outgained 261-213 in the first half, the Gators finished with 505 yards of total offense and pitched a second-half shutout on defense. They've now won nine consecutive home games against Tennessee and 16 of the last 17 matchups. 

"Our guys had to come out and play hard for four quarters. In the first half, I thought a couple mistakes here and there," Mullen said. "We came out and played really well in the second half."

Fancy start:Watch the Florida Gators start the second half with a double pass for touchdown

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Emory Jones leads Gators’ ground attack

One week removed from a career-high 19 carries, Jones set another career high on the ground. 

Jones had his first 100-yard rushing game as a Gator, leading the team with 144 yards on 15 carries. He finished with six first-down runs, including a career long of 49 yards. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever done that. I probably ran for 100 in high school probably a couple times but never 140 or whatever it was," Jones said. "I didn’t really realize it. I was just going out there running. I didn’t really realize how far I’d run, honestly.

"I’m just trying to get better week to week. I feel like that’s what I’m doing. I’m feeling more comfortable out there. The guys up front have definitely been blocking their tails off and the guys outside have been making plays, so they’ve been making it pretty easy for me.”

After rushing for 245 yards against Alabama, Florida’s No. 2-ranked rushing offense won the matchup Saturday against Tennessee’s top-five rushing defense. UF racked up 283 yards on 40 attempts (7.1 yards per carry), opening the season with four-straight games of 200-plus rushing yards for just the second time in the last 44 years (2009, 2021).

Running backs Dameon Pierce (62 yards), Malik Davis (45) and Nay’Quan Wright (32) combined for 139 yards, with Wright’s 23-yard touchdown run marking his first score of the season. 

"You look at what he had, 15 carries, that's probably a little much, but I think a bunch were like scrambles too and improvising. I don't know if we called many direct quarterback runs in the game," Mullen said of Jones. "So I think he had some runs and scrambles and reads, some explosive plays. But I think it shows how he's managing things. And, again, another good night for our backs.

"That's the funny one. I look at it right now, our backs, we roll the guys. So our running backs, I mean, 25 carries, get (almost) 150 yards and two touchdowns. If we didn't rotate them as much, that would be a pretty good day for the running back. So I think those guys doing a pretty good job running the ball as well."

Florida running back Nay'Quan Wright eludes a Tennessee defensive player while on his way to a  touchdown to make it 17-14 Gators in the first half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Missed tackles, blown coverage by UF

After missed tackles resulted in two Alabama touchdowns last week, the Gators' tackling woes showed up again Saturday.  

Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) had the Vols (2-2, 0-1) facing third-and-9 in the first quarter, but gave up a touchdown on the play. Quarterback Hendon Hooker threw a screen pass to running back Tiyon Evans, who broke a tackle attempt by linebacker Amari Burney. 

Evans then evaded defensive backs Tre’Vez Johnson and Rashad Torrence on his way to a 47-yard score. The Gators had several more missed tackles throughout the game.

"I missed a tackle on the second half, so I was kind of pissed off about that," linebacker Mohamoud Diabate said. "I don’t want that to happen again. Besides that I feel like I played clean, but I gotta get that cleaned up and play better for Kentucky.”

The secondary also had a blown coverage on Tennessee’s second TD, as Hooker found receiver JaVonta Payton wide open on a 75-yard touchdown to give the Vols a 14-10 lead. Safety Mordecai McDaniel appeared to get caught looking in the backfield and was out of position on the play. 

“You look in the first half, we had a couple of missed tackles, which allowed them to keep drives alive, and then that one touchdown was a missed tackle. And then, you know, we had a blown coverage. You're in man coverage, cover your man. It's not like we're being real complex," Mullen said. "I challenged the defense at halftime about our execution and playing to our standard.

"You see we can play great and then miss a tackle and then have a blown coverage and all of a sudden, you know, it's a tight game. And I challenge the guys about doing it every play, every single play, playing at the high, high level, and we did that, all the way to the final play of the game.”

Tennessee opened the third quarter with a turnover on downs, and then Florida forced back-to-back punts to put the game out of reach. The Vols drove to the 10-yard line on their final possession, but UF's defense made one last stand. 

"I thought played excellent. I thought Todd [Grantham] did a great job with getting the guys ready to play. They’re an explosive offense, tough offense to play," Mullen said. "I think you saw what Todd and his guys are able to do, the adjustments they made at halftime.

"For us to come in and pitch the shutout in the second half, really since they hit whatever it was, a 75-yard-long coverage bomb and they don't score again. So I think Todd and his staff did an amazing job tonight. Our guys played well, too."

Mullen dials up double pass for a TD

After Florida fumbled at the 15-yard line just before halftime, Mullen made sure the offense’s next red-zone trip reached the end zone. 

On the Gators’ first series of the third quarter, Mullen dialed up a double pass on second-and-6 from the Tennessee 13. Emory Jones threw behind the line of scrimmage to receiver Trent Whittemore, who tossed a 13-yard touchdown to tight end Kemore Gamble. 

The Gators never lost momentum after that score and reeled off two more touchdown drives in the second half.

This is the second time Mullen has called his trick play "Kodak" with a wide receiver and tight end and scored in the red zone. In 2018, Moral Stephens caught the game-winning touchdown at Mississippi State on a 20-yard double pass from Kadarius Toney. 

"It was," Mullen said when asked if it was the same play. "Great call. I have to be careful, you guys even know the name of our plays now. That was Kodak.

"You call trick plays, a lot of them (are) about timing and execution. I thought it was good timing. We were driving and they were kind of into like, 'We're in the red zone, I'm in attack mode.' We then executed it very well."

Whittemore’s touchdown pass isn’t his first experience behind center. At Buchholz High School, he started at quarterback during his junior season after an injury to Camden Orth.

Whittemore used Jones' bow-and-arrowtouchdown celebration after he scored.

"I did give him permission," Jones said. "Early on in the week he was like, 'If I throw this touchdown, can I?' I was like, 'Yes, I got you.' We had been working on that play the whole week. We just went out there and executed it. My boy had the good celebration.”

Florida running back Malik Davis scores on a 4-yard pass from quarterback Emory Jones in the first quarter Saturday against the Tennessee Volunteers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Up next

Who: Florida (3-1, 1-1) vs. Kentucky (4-0, 2-0)

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Kroger Field, Lexington, Ky.

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

View Comments