The game was a big test for Urban Meyer. Did he pass? Well, his team was sloppy, but this time, who cares?
By ANTONYA ENGLISH, Times Staff Writer
Published September 17, 2005
GAINESVILLE - Whether Urban Meyer's spread offense will be as successful in the SEC as it was at Bowling Green and Utah still remains to be seen.
At least for today, Florida fans are most likely saying, who cares?
It was good enough to beat Tennessee.
Still bitter over the memory of last year's last-second loss to the Vols on the road, Florida exacted its revenge and got a leg up on the SEC East race with a 16-7 win over Tennessee in front of a record crowd 90,716 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Saturday night.
With the win, the No. 6 Gators (3-0, 1-0 SEC) most likely will move into the Top 5 for the first time since 2001.
Ironically, Florida won despite some uncharacteristic sloppy play by a Meyer-coached team.
Twice, Florida had the ball inside the Vols 30 but self-destructed with penalties and an inability to stop a four-man rush.
With the score tied at 7, Florida got its first big break of the second half when long snapper James Smith recovered a fumble by Jonathan Hefney on the punt by Eric Wilbur. Florida took over at the Vols 28. But Chris Leak was sacked for a 9-yard loss on the first play, and Florida couldn't pick up a first down.
The Gators settled for a 38-yard field goal by Chris Hetland and a 10-7 lead.
One possession later, the Gators got another break when the Vols botched a fake punt and Florida took over on the Vols 31. Three penalties marred the drive, and Hetland came in for a 35-yard field goal to make it 13-7 with 5:14 left in the third quarter. The Gators went 13 yards in seven plays on the drive.
It wouldn't be Tennessee-Florida without a little drama, some controversy, a trick play - and a botched kick thrown in for good measure.
Saturday's game had it all.
Meyer provided the drama midway through the second quarter. With the score tied at 7 and the Gators with the ball, Meyer made a decision that could be called gutsy or insane, depending on whom you ask.
He went for it on fourth and 1 at the Tennessee 44. The quarterback sneak by Leak failed, and the Vols took over looking primed to score.
Tennessee drove to the Gators 11, led by four consecutive running plays from Gerald Riggs - gains of 8,9 16 and 2 yards. But a dead-ball foul, incomplete pass and delay of game pushed the Vols back to the 19. Then on third and 18 came the controversy.
Erik Ainge threw a pass to Bret Smith that put the Vols at the 1. But officials overturned the play after the replay showed the ball hit the ground first. Tennessee was still in field goal range and prepared to take the lead with 4:03 remaining in the first half. But cornerback Dee Webb blocked James Wilhoit's 37-yard field goal, Webb's first blocked since Nov.6, 2004 against Vanderbilt.
Meyer said after last week's victory over Louisiana Tech that he hadn't been holding anything back in the first two games, but he might have fudged on that a little.
The Gators opened the game aggressively on defense then followed on its first offensive possession. Leak connected with Chad Jackson for a 19-yard pass on the opening play.
Leak was 6-of-6 for 78 yards in the first quarter and 13-of-18 for 113 yards through three quarters.
Before the game, Meyer said the Gators absolutely couldn't afford penalties against a team such as Tennessee.
But after being penalized 13 times in the first two games, Florida committed eight for 53 yards in three quarters Saturday. The Florida defense continued its solid play early, holding the Vols in check on the ground, generally their strength.
On its first three drives, the Vols gained just 28 yards. On its fourth possession, Tennessee drove 83 yards for their first touchdown, an 8-yard pass from Ainge to Smith and the first touchdown the Gators have given up this season.
Through three quarters, the Vols had gained only 189 yards.