Published September 17, 2011
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Chris Rainey had 233 total yards, including an 83-yard touchdown catch, and No. 16 Florida beat rival Tennessee 33-23 Saturday, extending two decades of dominance in the Southeastern Conference series.
Rainey finished with 108 yards rushing, 104 yards receiving and blocked a punt that led to a field goal. His touchdown pretty much sealed it, allowing the Gators (3-0, 1-0) to push their winning streak in the series to seven games.
Florida has won 16 of 22 since the Eastern Division teams started playing annually in 1990. The Volunteers (2-1, 0-1) had hoped to end the streak with quarterback Tyler Bray, but it ended with another Florida celebration in the Swamp.
Rainey and a swarming defense had a lot to do with it.
The fifth-year senior showed his dynamic ability in Florida's first two games against overmatched opponents, scoring three different ways against Florida Atlantic and totaling 162 yards and a score against UAB.
Nonetheless, there were questions about whether he could do it against SEC competition. He answered those Saturday, proving again to be the team's most valuable player. And he did it with former Florida legend Emmitt Smith roaming the sideline.
Florida's defense was nearly as good, although the unit dropped five would-be interceptions and was flagged for six pass interference penalties.
After the fifth one, Bray hooked up with tight end Mychak Rivera for an 18-yard score that cut Florida's lead to 33-23 with 4:46 remaining.
It could have been closer, but the Volunteers (2-1, 0-1) failed on a two-point conversion in the third quarter. Bray's final pass was intercepted, ending Tennessee's slim shot at a comeback.
Bray completed 26 of 48 passes for 288 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also was sacked three times and hit way more often.
He played much of the game without his top target, though.
Justin Hunter, who entered the game leading the league in receiving and ranking 10th nationally, injured his left knee on the Volunteers' opening drive. Hunter landed awkwardly while making a 12-yard reception on Tennessee's first passing play and did not return.
It was a huge setback for the Volunteers, who had hoped to attack Florida's inexperienced secondary. The Gators took advantage of his absence, holding the Volunteers to 279 yards and using a variety of blitzes to pressure Bray.
John Brantley had fewer issues for Florida. Brantley completed 14 of 23 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns, both coming on short dumps. Brantley found Trey Burton wide open in the end zone for a 1-yard score to cap Florida's opening possession, then tossed a pass to Rainey over the middle in the third. Rainey turned up field and found no one around him.
He made it look easy from there, making a couple of open-field moves and outrunning everyone to the end zone. It was Florida's longest pass play since Danny Wuerffel and Jacquez Green hooked up for an 85-yard score in 1996.
The Gators had some anxious moments before Rainey's catch and score. Because of penalties, poor execution and a sack, the Gators struggled in the red zone and had to settle for two short field goals and a 13-0 lead.
Caleb Sturgis made it 16-0 in the second quarter with his 46-yarder.
The score and the Volunteers' inept running game — they had 3 yards rushing at halftime — made them one-dimensional for the rest of the game.
It kind of worked to Tennessee's advantage.
Bray connected with Marlin Lane for an 8-yard touchdown late in the first half, then found Da'Rick Rogers for a 14-yarder late in the third. That made it 30-13, and coach Derek Dooley made a questionable call by going for two. The Volunteers failed, leaving them three scores down heading into the final 15 minutes.
Rogers jawed with Gators safety Matt Elam following the touchdown — a continuation of their Twitter exchange during the week — but Elam simply pointed to the scoreboard.
Enough said, especially in this rivalry.
Florida's seven-game winning streak is its longest since the teams first played in 1916. Tennessee won the first 10 meetings, but it has been all Florida of late.