Commentary

Final analysis: Tennessee-Florida

Originally Published: September 15, 2007
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here's a quick look at how Florida routed Tennessee, 59-20:

FINAL ANALYSIS

How the game was won: The Gators dominated Tennessee in every facet of the game, scoring touchdowns on offense, defense and a kickoff return. Florida's defense held the Volunteers to only 37 rushing yards on 21 attempts, and the Vols' defense couldn't slow the Gators. Even when things went right for the Volunteers, such as freshman cornerback Eric Berry scoring on a 96-yard interception return and the defense holding Florida on its next possession, things fell apart. Trailing 28-20, Tennessee had the ball at its 13-yard line. But tailback Arian Foster never got the handoff from quarterback Erik Ainge and fumbled. Gators linebacker Dustin Doe scooped up the football and ran it back for a touchdown and a 35-20 lead.

Player of the game: Gators quarterback Tim Tebow was spectacular in his first career SEC start. Tebow more than lived up to his massive hype, completing 14 of 19 passes for 299 yards with two touchdowns. He also ran 18 times for 62 yards and two scores. His only blemish was the interception Berry ran back for a touchdown.

Stat of the game: 12-3. Florida coach Urban Meyer's record vs. ranked opponents, including a 9-3 mark as the Gators' coach.

Questions answered:
• The Gators are good enough and certainly fast enough to defend their national championship. After losing nine starters on defense, along with quarterback Chris Leak and several other key weapons, Florida wasn't supposed to be this good this fast.

• Tennessee doesn't have enough defense (or a good enough running game) to contend for an SEC title. The Volunteers are potentially explosive in the passing game, but they're unable to run the ball effectively, even against a depleted Florida front. It was the second time in three games this season that the Vols allowed 45 points or more.

What's next for each team:
• Tebow and the rest of the young Gators play their first SEC road game at Ole Miss on Saturday. Unless Ron Zook comes back to coach Florida for the weekend, the Rebels have absolutely no shot at winning. Florida then faces four tough games: Auburn in the Swamp, at LSU, at Kentucky and against Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla.

• The Volunteers are 15-12 since the start of the 2005 season, and you have to wonder whether coach Phillip Fulmer is going to begin to feel some pressure. The Vols haven't won an SEC title in eight seasons. They're 2-5 in their last seven bowl games. Arkansas State comes to Neyland Stadium next Saturday, so the Vols will have a chance to rebound before playing host to Georgia on Oct. 6 after a week off.

FIRST-HALF ANALYSIS

Turning point: Florida sophomore Brandon James, who sprained his ankle last week against Troy and was questionable to play against the Volunteers, returned Tennessee's first punt 83 yards for a touchdown. Then the Vols got a 74-yard kickoff return from running back LaMarcus Coker to the Florida 26. Tennessee got as close as the Gators' 11, but Markihe Anderson intercepted an Erik Ainge throw on third-and-10 with about 11 minutes to play in the first quarter.

Best call: Florida was very conservative during its first two possessions, with quarterback Tim Tebow running five times in six plays while the Gators were backed up inside their 25-yard line. But on the third possession, Tebow threw two straight deep passes, the second a 30-yard touchdown to Riley Cooper, which put Florida ahead 14-3 after the PAT kick.

Best player in the half: Maybe Tebow really does wear a cape. After dismantling Western Kentucky and Troy in the Gators' first two games, the sophomore faced his first big test against Tennessee. Tebow passed with flying colors in the first half, at least. He completed six of seven passes for 104 yards with two touchdowns and ran nine times for 46 yards and one score.

Three things Florida needs to do:
1. Keep giving it to Tebow: The sophomore had the Volunteers guessing throughout the first half. Coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Dan Mullen did a great job of play calling. At one point, non-tailbacks carried the football on 11 straight running plays.

2. Play tighter in the secondary: Florida's secondary, which has three new starters, struggled at times against Tennessee's receivers. The Vols had little trouble driving down the field in their no-huddle offense to score a touchdown late in the half.

3. Pressure Ainge: The Gators' defensive front got very little pressure on Ainge, who completed 19 of 29 passes for 204 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Three things Tennessee needs to do:
1. Run the football: A year after Florida held the Volunteers to minus-11 rushing yards (the lowest total under coach Phillip Fulmer in 16 seasons), the Gators allowed only 7 rushing yards on 14 attempts in the first half. Arian Foster ran eight times for 11 yards. Coker ran five times for 5 yards. Tennessee's longest run of the half was 5 yards.

2. Keep the ball away from James: The Vols haven't adjusted very well to the new kickoff rules, and their punt coverage was horrific. Along with the 83-yard punt return, James had a 31-yard kickoff return to help set up the Gators' third touchdown.

3. Put the ball in the end zone: The Vols drove inside Florida's 20-yard line four times but came up with only one touchdown. Ainge threw an interception at the Florida 11 on the second drive of the game. Tennessee settled for field goals after driving to the Florida 11 and 5 later in the game.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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