2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 3 - Tennessee at Florida
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Sept. 17 at Florida 33 … Tennessee 23
CFN Analysis: COMING
(AP) GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Chris Rainey slipped out of the backfield, caught the ball in the middle of the field and turned toward the end zone.
No one was around him. No one was going to catch him, either. Not this time.
Rainey had 233 total yards, including an 83-yard touchdown catch, and No. 16 Florida beat rival Tennessee 33-23 Saturday to extend 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.
"Rainey is a special athlete," quarterback John Brantley said. "He's really grown up. He deserves all this he's doing."
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 snap the streak with quarterback Tyler Bray, but the game ended with another Florida celebration in the Swamp.
Rainey and a swarming defense had a lot to do with it.
Rainey proved again to be the team's most valuable player. And he did it with Florida legend and Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith roaming the sideline.
Rainey became the first Florida player since Percy Harvin in 2007 to have 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in the same game.
"He talks a lot, but he doesn't complain about anything," Gators coach Will Muschamp said. "He works awful hard, he works extremely hard. Playing football, playing at Florida is really important to him."
Rainey also returned three punts for 21 yards, giving him 563 all-purpose yards through three games.
Florida's defense has been nearly as good. After allowing just a field goal in the first two games, the unit was equally impressive against the Volunteers despite dropping five would-be interceptions and getting 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 Tennessee failed on a 2-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 and did not return.
"It's tough losing one of your go-to guys as a quarterback," Bray said. "But hey, we still had all three quarters to come back and make plays, which we failed to do."
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.
"We lost," Bray said. "There is always what-ifs. What if I don't throw two picks? What if I throw five touchdowns?"
Brantley had fewer issues for Florida. He 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.
"I saw the biggest hole I've ever seen in my life and I took off," Rainey said.
He made it look easy from there, using a couple open-field moves to outrun everyone to the end zone. He didn't get caught, either -- a problem for him in the past.
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.
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.
"I heard about that little streak this week," Brantley said. "It always feels good to beat Tennessee."
Tennessee (2-0) at Florida (2-0) Sept. 17, 3:30, CBS
Here’s The Deal … Enough is enough. It’s time for this rivalry to be interesting again.
Oh sure, Lane Kiffin tried to poke the bear a few years back, and there have been some decent battles, but Florida has owned the Vols winning six straight with blowouts in the last four. After the way Tennessee has started the season, though, it looks like it’s ready to turn things around.
It’s been a long, slow climb back for a Tennessee program that not all that long ago was as talented and as important as any in college football. A dip in recruiting, a few problems with the NCAA, and the rise of Florida into a superpower of superpowers have pushed the Vols down the pecking order, but head coach Derek Dooley has put together a team good enough to challenge for the SEC East title again. It might not be a world-beater like LSU or Alabama, but it has speed, explosion, and the right players in key spots to start winning games like this again on a regular basis. For too long, Tennessee has gotten by on beating the mediocre teams on the schedule and doing just enough to get to a minor bowl game. If Dooley can stop the slide against Florida and pull out the win, which would be the first in Gainesville since 2003, all of a sudden, the SEC spotlight that’s been shining so bright on the West and South Carolina will move over a bit.
But there’s no real pressure on Dooley. Yes, he needs to start winning the big games, but there’s still an understanding that he’s rebuilding a program that needed time to get back to a national title level.
There’s pressure on Will Muschamp.
There’s no rebuilding with this Florida team. There’s no grace period, there’s no reloading, and there aren’t any excuses. Urban Meyer left the cupboard fully stocked with a boatload of young NFL talent, and Muschamp, along with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, has walked into as good a situation as any coach could dream of – everything is in place to win a national title right now.
But the Gators aren’t in the BCS title discussion yet as the pollsters are still waiting to see if 2010 was just a blip, and it’ll take a few big wins to start convincing people that things are back to national title-level normal. Fortunately, ranking doesn’t matter for Florida, who’s one of the few teams ranked outside of the top five that controls its own destiny. In the SEC, if you win out, you’ll play for the national title, and there are several great tests down the road against Alabama, LSU, and South Carolina, along with a brutal home game against Florida State, but for now, just getting by the suddenly dangerous Vols would be enough.
Tennessee has been fun and exciting over the first two weeks with an explosive passing game and a good enough defense to get by. Beating a strong FCS team in Montana 42-16 was better than it looked, and getting by Cincinnati – who hung up 72 points in the season opener – was nice. Winning the East might be too tough a task with road dates at Alabama and Arkansas to go along with home games against LSU and South Carolina, but if the Vols can beat Florida on the road, they can hang with anyone in the conference.
Why Tennessee Might Win: The passing game is in place to bomb away. Florida’s secondary is loaded with speed, athleticism, and talent, but it hasn’t been tested yet going against Florida Atlantic and UAB offense that don’t have a lick of firepower. Tennessee QB Tyler Bray has been one of the nation’s top passers over the first two games, building off the strong second half of his freshman season to bomb Montana for 293 yards and three scores and Cincinnati for 405 yards and five touchdowns without a pick in either game. The receivers are there, the running game is in place to balance things out, and the offense has the ability to move the ball in a variety of ways. That’s not to say the Gators don’t have the talent and the coaching staff to keep the game under control, but this is the first time they’ll have to deal with a real offense.
So far, Florida hasn’t done nearly enough to get to the quarterback. It hasn’t had to dial up the intensity in the two laughers, but the front four is too good to only have two sacks in two games. Tennessee’s offensive line is hardly anything special, but if it can keep Bray clean and can limit the pressure from the outside, keeping up the offensive pace shouldn’t be a problem.
Why Florida Might Win: Tennessee doesn’t have the lines to handle the Florida lines.
No, the Gators haven’t come up with a ton of sacks in the first two games, but the line hasn’t had a problem getting into the backfield with 14 tackles for loss to stuff the FAU and UAB running games cold. The Florida offensive line has been nearly perfect so far, giving QB John Brantley five days to work while opening up the holes for the running game, and Tennessee is vulnerable on the defensive front. It clamped down in the second half against Cincinnati, but Isaiah Pead finished with 155 yards including a 65-yard scoring dash on the opening drive. Florida thrives on hitting the home run from the backfield, and Tennessee will end up giving up a few thanks to a defensive front that’ll allow the Gator speedsters to get to the second level.
On the other side, the Tennessee O line has been a bit inconsistent in pass protection and hasn’t done enough for the running game. Tauren Poole has rushed for 199 yards in two games and is good enough to be among the SEC’s best backs if he gets a little room, but he’s not going to get those holes. The Vols won’t get the push needed against the strong Gator defensive front.
What To Watch Out For: Extremely quietly, John Brantley has been good. Unlike the Texas situation, with one-time superstar recruit Garrett Gilbert still floundering in an offense that has no idea how to develop his talents, Brantley has the right coaching staff and is in the right situation to make him a playmaker. He was never the right fit for what Urban Meyer wanted to do, but under the tutelage of Charlie Weis, he’s able to get the ball down the field a bit more effectively than he did last year, and he’s good at checking down and dumping the ball off when needed to get the ball in the hands of his speedsters. He hasn’t been tested yet, and while he threw two picks against Florida Atlantic, he’s starting to show that he’s ready to blossom. If he’s good, Florida will be fine. If he’s great, Florida could be in the national title hunt. This might be the game to see if he can be the latter.
For Tennessee to win, Bray has to be great, but he’ll be great if his receivers can keep on exploding. Da’Rick Rogers, a 6-3, 215-pound sophomore, who showed flashes of greatness last year, but now he’s putting it all together. Big, fast, and acrobatic with next-level tools, he’s taking to the spotlight following up a five-catch, 100-yard, one score day against Montana with ten grabs for 100 yards and two scores against Cincinnati. Meanwhile, Justin Hunter has shown off his athleticism with two dominant performances. The speedster set the Tennessee freshman record with seven touchdown grabs averaging a whopping 25.9 yards per grab on just 16 catches, and he’s started out even hotter with 146 yards against Montana and 156 against Cincinnati, with a touchdown grab in each game.
What Will Happen: This will be fun. Each team will hit haymakers and each will come up with big days through the air, but the Florida defense will do a bit more in key spots in the second half. The Tennessee running game won’t get going, and while Bray will put up huge numbers, he’ll also get picked off twice. Florida will be just balanced enough to get through the shootout with the win, but it’ll be pushed. The Vols might not win, but the respect and the attention will come after the tough loss.
CFN Prediction: Florida 38 … Tennessee 27
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