Freshman returns quickly from surgery to lift Gators

Published September 17, 2006

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Less than a month ago, freshman Brandon James had knee surgery and was expected to be out several weeks.

Not only is James back, he's proving he can be valuable for the Gators. James had three returns for 65 yards and an 85-yard touchdown called back due to an illegal block.

His 35-yard punt return in the first quarter was the Gators' longest in 50 games; since Keiwan Ratliff's 38-yarder against Ohio in 2002.

MUST WIN?: There was some debate leading up to the game whether it should be considered "must win." Senior defensive tackle Marcus Thomas said he was approaching it that way, but receiver Dallas Baker, a fellow senior, disagreed.

"It's only the third game of the season," Baker said. "We beat Tennessee last year, and we didn't go to a big-time bowl (Florida defeated Iowa in the Outback Bowl). So it's not make or break, really. It's just the first SEC game of the season, and we want to come out on top."

But CBS analyst Gary Danielson, who called the game with Verne Lundquist, said before the game it's hard to dispute Thomas.

"The numbers work against you," Danielson said. "If you lose this game, realistically, you are two games behind because the tiebreaker goes to the other team. And you have to play all the tough teams too (remaining on the schedule). So you have to have the other team lose twice for you to pass that team.

"So mathematically, you can't just say this is an opening game (or) it's just another game. And that's how this league is different than any other league in college football. You have to get up for this game. You might have three games that you can win with talent, but the rest of the games, in this conference, you have to win with talent, plus toughness, plus execution, plus good breaks. Everything else has to fall your way."

TWIST OF FATE: It's funny sometimes how things work out. Sophomore defensive back Demetrice Morley got his first career start for the Vols on Saturday night - against the team for which he was supposed to play.

Morley, a Miami native, committed to Florida out of Killian High but rescinded after former coach Ron Zook was fired. Although the Gators kept recruiting him, Morley stood firm on his change of heart and went to Knoxville.

He started Saturday in place of cornerback Inky Johnson, who suffered a season-ending injury against Air Force last weekend. Johnson had surgery to repair blood vessels in his right shoulder and will need further surgery to repair a nerve injury.

HARRELL HURTING ... BUT PLAYING: Senior defensive tackle Justin Harrell made good on his decision to play against the Gators. He postponed season-ending surgery for a ruptured tendon in his left biceps (sustained against Air Force) to play in one last big game against the Gators.

Harrell, the only consistent starter returning in the Vols' front seven, appeared in the first half.

"He just wanted to play one more game," his father, Edgar, told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "He can help his teammates."

SEC SEPARATION: The networks labeled it "Separation Saturday" because of the seven matchups of ranked teams. And the SEC was a big part of that. The league has six teams ranked among the Top 25 in the coaches' poll, the most of any conference. Five are ranked in the Associated Press writers' poll.

There are four teams ranked in the top 10 in the both polls, which is the 11th time since expansion in 1992 that has occurred.