Florida 16, Tennessee 7
-- This was the third time Urban Meyer led his Florida Gators into the Swamp, but it will surely be remembered as the official dawn of the Meyer Era.
Meyer's vaunted spread-option offense often sputtered Saturday against Tennessee, but the sixth-ranked Gators mustered enough offense to beat the fifth-ranked Volunteers, 16-7, before 90,716 fans, the largest crowd ever to watch a game at the Swamp. Florida (3-0) ended the Volunteers' two-game win streak here, while Meyer still has not lost since New Mexico beat his Utah team on Oct. 25, 2003.
"We're not a great football team," Meyer said. "That was a great win by an excellent defense, a pretty good special teams and an inadequate offense right now."
Much of the offseason scrutiny focused on Meyer's spread-option offense. There were concerns whether quarterback Chris Leak could adjust to a system that places much of the burden on the shoulders of the man under center.
But Leak, who completed 17 of 26 passes for 179 yards, was efficient Saturday, particularly at the start of the fourth quarter, when he led the Gators on a 16-play, 68-yard drive that resulted in a 20-yard field goal by Chris Hetland, his third field goal of the game.
Tennessee (1-1) essentially handed Florida six points in the third quarter. A fumbled punt and an unsuccessful fake punt deep in Tennessee territory gave the Gators field position, allowing them to kick two field goals.
"All we did on offense," Florida center Mike Degory said, "was play field position."
On fourth and 10 from its 31 early in the third quarter, Tennessee freshman punter Britton Colquitt attempted a pass. Tony Joiner, a second-string safety, deflected it away, giving Florida prime field position. But the Gators could only muster a 35-yard field goal by Hetland.
"I don't remember this many mistakes in a single game," Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer said.
Amid all the hype surrounding Meyer's scheme, at least one player, Florida wide receiver Chad Jackson, said during the week that the Gators' defense had been particularly impressive in practice. "We could hold Tennessee under 10 points," Jackson said during the week.
He proved correct, as no solution emerged to Tennessee's clouded quarterback situation. The Volunteers (1-1) started Rick Clausen after Erik Ainge lost his job with a poor performance in a season-opening victory against Alabama-Birmingham.
Fulmer turned to Ainge on Tennessee's third drive Saturday. Fulmer went briefly back to Clausen at the end of the half, but Ainge was more effective overall, completing 7 of 10 passes in the first half. Clausen completed 2 of 5 attempts for no yards.
Late in the second quarter, Ainge rolled right from the Florida 19 and fired a wobbly pass to Bret Smith, who was initially ruled to have secured the ball before it hit the ground near the 1. Instant replay, however, clearly showed the ball hit the ground, and the call was reversed, forcing Tennessee into a 37-yard field goal attempt.
Florida's Demetrice Webb rushed from the edge to block the kick, foiling Tennessee's chance to grab the lead. Strong special teams play was a signature of Meyer's Utah team, which last season blocked nine kicks, including seven punts.
Tennessee's defensive pressure kept them in the game again in the third quarter. First, Florida got a break when Tremaine McCollum recovered a muffed punt at the Tennessee 28. On first down, though, defensive tackle Jesse Mahelona sacked Leak for a nine-yard loss. The Gators settled for Hetland's 38-yard field goal.
That would be all they would need.
"I'm sitting here replaying the game in my head and we made a lot of mistakes," Degory said. "But it feels good to get the win."