(Saturday, September 19th)
Final Score: (1) Florida 23, Tennessee 13
Gainesville, FL (Sports Network) - Tim Tebow accounted for 191 yards of offense with 76 on the ground and a score, as the top-ranked Florida Gators overcame a strong effort by Tennessee in a 23-13 victory at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Jeffery Demps also ran for a score while Tebow uncharacteristically had two turnovers with a pick and lost fumble late in the game, allowing Tennessee a last-ditch effort to pull off the upset.
Tebow had only 19 career turnovers coming into the game and watched his streak of 30 straight games with at least one touchdown pass -- longest in the NCAA -- come to an end.
Chris Rainey gained 64 yards on nine carries for the Gators (3-0, 1-0 SEC), who racked up 208 rushing yards in the win. Return specialist Brandon James racked up 97 yards on three kickoff returns to help with the field position and also made three catches for 23 yards.
Florida had outscored their first two opponents 118-9 in a pair of lopsided finals to open the season and ran its winning streak to 13 games, the longest such stretch in school history.
Montario Hardesty ran for 96 yards and a score on 20 carries for Tennessee (1-2, 0-1), which came into this bout needing to regroup from a disappointing 19-15 loss to UCLA in which the Vols had four turnovers.
Jonathan Crompton's struggles continued with two interceptions on 11-of-19 passing for 93 yards. He's now thrown five picks in the last two games.
Florida was leading 23-6 when Tebow coughed up the ball early in the fourth, and Dennis Rogan returned the ball 35 yards to the Vols' 37. Seven plays later Hardesty was in the end zone courtesy of a 17-yard run, which marked the first touchdown allowed by the Gators this season.
A quick three-and-out by Florida gave the ball back to Tennessee with six minutes to play, but Crompton threw a pass to nobody in particular on 3rd-and- six with room to run for the first down, then was intercepted by Ahmad Black on fourth down. The Gators ran out the last 1:51 to seal the win.
Lane Kiffin and Urban Meyer had a chance to finally match wits and let their coaching do the talking following an offseason filled with provocative comments.
"This was our first SEC game as a team, and I really thought we had a great game together," Kiffin said. "I was proud of how physical and tough our players played today. We have a physical team; I knew we would play physical, tough and smart in a very hostile environment...We lost a game which I thought we had a really good chance to win."
Upon taking the job in Knoxville, Kiffin stoked the fires of this SEC rivalry by suggesting Meyer committed recruiting violations -- later found to be false -- and promised the Volunteer faithful a bawdy rendition of "Rocky Top" after beating Florida.
"Obviously, I think we could have played better," Meyer said. "I don't want to take anything away or disrespect our opponent. They have some talented athletes and this is SEC football, but I think...we missed a lot of tackles. (Tebow) didn't play his best game, but he played as hard as he's played. He was a competitor...I'm happy to have the win, we will certainly enjoy it, but we'll get back to work tomorrow."
The Volunteers did their best to make good on Kiffin's promise in the first half, as their stout defense kept it close.
Caleb Sturgis' 37-yard field goal allowed Florida an early lead, but Daniel Lincoln answered with a 24-yard boot on Tennessee's opening possession.
An 11-play, 72-yard scoring drive ended with Tebow muscling in for a touchdown from the one just over two minutes into the second, but his interception led to a a 20-yard field goal by Lincoln that brought the margin to 10-6.
Florida's final series of the half stalled at the Volunteer 11, and Sturgis provided a 13-6 halftime lead with a 29-yard field goal.
Sturgis added a 35-yarder on Florida's first turn with the ball out of the break following a Crompton interception.
An efficient 13-play drive then led to Demps' seven-yard scoring run and a 23-6 lead entering the final 15 minutes. Tebow was instrumental in leading the Gators 69 yards to a crucial seven points, converting a pair of third-down plays with runs and hitting Riley Cooper for eight yards on 3rd-and-4.
Florida, which had never led in the all-time series with Tennessee, moved to 20-19 in the series thanks to its fifth consecutive victory over the Vols...Meyer is now 5-0 for his career against Tennessee...UT has committed nine turnovers in the first three games...Aaron Hernandez led the Gators with four receptions for 26 yards...Gators starting wideout Deonte Thompson sat with a hamstring injury...Demps ran for 31 yards and caught two passes for 15 yards...Bryce Brown was the Volunteers' leading receiver with three catches for 34 yards...The SEC's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Eric Berry, led a formidable Tennessee defense with an interception of Tebow and a team- high 11 tackles...Tebow's rushing touchdown tied was the 46th of his career and tied him with Kevin Faulk for second all-time in the SEC...Florida next travels to Kentucky while Tennessee host Ohio University.
09/19 23:29:40 ET