Vols finally break streak with 38-33 win over Florida

Published 2:33 pm Sunday, September 25, 2022

STAR CORRESPONDENT
KNOXVILLE – The Tennessee Volunteers were looking to keep their unbeaten season going on Saturday while putting a noose around the nose of the Florida Gators for the first time since 2016 before a raucous sold-out checker board Neyland Stadium filled with 101,915 fans.
Building a 38-21 lead in the early part of the fourth quarter, the Vols found themselves fending off a late Florida rally to win 38-33 to run their record to 4-0.
The Vols grabbed a 3-0 lead after one quarter on a Chase McGrath 32-yard field goal. The defensive unit for Tennessee made some strong plays in the quarter forcing Florida to give up the ball on a drive that stalled on a fourth down attempt.
Florida would take the lead in the second quarter when Anthony Richardson found wide receiver Keon Zipperer on a 44-yard strike. Adam Mihalek converted the point-after attempt for the 7-3 lead.
The Vols took the lead back on the ensuing drive when quarterback Hendon Hooker took the ball into the checkboard end zone with 11:59 remaining in the half. McGrath converted the PAT and UT led 10-7.
Florida took the kickoff, marched down the field, and seized the lead back when Richardson took care of business with a seven-yard quarterback keeper as Florida took the 14-10 lead on Mihalek’s conversion.
With the clock winding down toward the half, Tennessee struck again a Hooker threaded the needle to Bru McCoy on a one-yard scoring toss and when McGrath booted the point-after, the Vols took a 17-14 lead to the break.
Tennessee added to that lead quickly coming out of intermission as Jabari Small took a pass from Hooker and rambled into the end zone from 16 yards out to make it a 24-14 advantage after McGrath’s kick.
The Gators once again rallied as Richardson kept the ball on a one-yard scamper with 5:55 remaining in the third quarter. Mihalek converted the point after and the lead was shaved to 24-21.
As they had done all game up to that point, the Vols put together another drive that was capitalized on when Small added his second score of the day on a one-yard burst up the middle on a drive that lasted for 1:49. McGrath was true and the lead grew to 31-21.
Vol fans thought the game was on ice when Jaylen Wright plowed across the goal line with 7:55 remaining in the contest and after McGrath remained perfect on the day, the Vols led 38-21.
However, the Gators had a different idea; with 4:49 remaining in the game, Montrell Johnson Jr. carried the ball in for a score. A two-point conversion was thwarted and the scoreboard read 38-27.
Tennessee took the kickoff, marched down the field, and had the opportunity to seal the win, but the offense didn’t flourish in picking up a first down on a fourth down opportunity, giving the ball back to Florida.
Richardson took the Gators on his back and marched them to a score with 17 seconds remaining on the clock as he connected with Ricky Pearsall on a three-yard scoring toss to cut the lead to 38-33 as once again the two-point conversion failed.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Gators recovered a perfect onside kick as the 101,000 in attendance had their heart sink in their chest as the Gators had an opportunity to complete the comeback for a stunning victory.
With four seconds to play, Richardson was hit as he attempted to pass to the end zone causing the football to hang high enough for the Vols secondary to pick off the pass and send those in attendance into a frenzy as the Vols had finally beaten the Gators after the long losing streak.
For the game, Hooker finished with an efficient 22-of-28 performance for 349 yards and two scores. He also rushed 13 times for 112 yards and a score. Small toted the football 19 times covering 92 yards and a score while catching the scoring pass to finish with 122 all-purpose yards.
USC transfer Bru McCoy had a big day on the receiving end as he hauled in five passes for 102 yards and a score. Ramel Keyton had the catch of the day as he laid out to catch a Hooker pass and finished with three receptions for 69 yards.
Florida’s Richardson outdueled Hooker as he completed 24-of-44 passing for 453 yards and two scores. Justin Shorter was on the receiving end on seven passes for 155 yards while Pearsall recorded 103 yards receiving.
The Gators recorded 31 first downs to Tennessee’s 27 with the Vols outrushing the Gators 227 to 141 yards. Florida had 594 yards of total offense while Tennessee finished with 576. Florida had the ball for 34:56 of the contest while the Vols time of possession was 25:04.
Defensively, Jeremy Banks and Kamal Hadden led the Vols in tackles with seven each. Omari Thomas and Trevon Flowers added five each. Rashad Torrence II recorded 13 tackles to pace Florida defensively with Amari Burney contributing eight.
Hooker became only the second Tennessee quarterback to throw for over 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in a game. Former VFL quarterback and current Cleveland quarterback Josh Dobbs completed the feat twice.
Tennessee (4-0, 1-0) will enjoy a bye week before heading to Baton Rouge for a showdown with the LSU Tigers on Saturday Oct. 8 before returning home to host the Crimson Tide of Alabama on Oct. 15.
Florida (2-2, 0-2) will be at home for two games welcoming Eastern Washington on Oct. 1 and SEC foe Missouri on Oct. 8.

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