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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Florida overcomes first half struggles, takes down Volunteers 38-14

The redshirt junior threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns and added 144 yards with his legs in the victory

Florida tight end Kemore Gamble lets out a yell after scoring a touchdown on a trick play in the Gators' game against Tennessee on Sept. 25, 2021.
Florida tight end Kemore Gamble lets out a yell after scoring a touchdown on a trick play in the Gators' game against Tennessee on Sept. 25, 2021.

After a sloppy first half, the Florida Gators needed a spark. Head coach Dan Mullen found fire and called “Kodak.”

Quarterback Emory Jones tossed the ball out left to wide receiver Trent Whittemore who dropped back and delivered a dime of his own to tight end Kemore Gamble for a 13-yard double pass touchdown as the raucous Swamp crowd of 88,478 erupted.

Florida’s balanced attack eventually overcame the quick-twitch, explosive early offense of the Tennessee Volunteers, as the Gators gave the home crowd a 38-14 victory Saturday night.

Jones finished the night with two career-highs, 209 passing yards and 144 rushing yards, and two passing touchdowns. He became the first UF quarterback to surpass 200 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in a game since Tim Tebow against Florida State in November 2009. 

“He’s got more to come,” running back Dameon Pierce said. “That’s just scratching the surface for Emory. That’s a guy with a lot of potential and a lot of grit.”

As a unit, the Florida offense totaled 505 yards — 222 through the air and 283 on the ground — and paced UT in time of possession, 35:29 to 24:31.

Jones tossed a 4-yard score to Malik Davis to open the scoring on Florida’s opening drive. UF tallied seven rush attempts for 25 yards — 24 by Jones — on the 10-play drive.

After that, however, the scoring swung in favor of Tennessee. The Vols offense struck back on the following drive with the first big play of the night. Quarterback Hendon Hooker found running back Tiyon Evans in the flat, who dodged Florida defenders and broke free for a 47-yard score. Tennessee’s high-octane offense was on full display: The six-play, 80-yard drive took just over two minutes. 7-7.

After a UF field goal and a few punts, Tennessee created its second big-play of the game. This time, Hooker found receiver JaVonta Payton all alone for a 75-yard strike. The drive took just 77 seconds, and, in a blink of an eye, the Volunteers held a 14-10 lead.

“They’re an explosive type of offense,” Mullen said. “You can see the improvement they’ve made in one year and what Coach Heupel is doing with them… They’re a tough offense to play.”

The teams traded punts again before Florida’s offense got moving again. Jones hit wide receiver Xzavier Henderson for a 20-yard gain, setting up a 23-yard scamper for six by running back Nay’Quan Wright: 17-14 Gators with 4:15 remaining in the half. 

Florida squandered great field position one drive later, as wide receiver Jacob Copeland fumbled on a fourth-down attempt to give the ball back to Tennessee. The Vols missed a 47-yard field goal attempt at the end of the half, and the Gators entered the locker room clinging to an unconvincing three-point advantage.

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Hooker finished the half with 183 yards, two touchdowns and 13.1 yards per attempt — he entered the game averaging 8.3 yards per attempt. The Vols' fast-paced offense seemed to work in the first half. Despite having the ball for just 10:24, UT outgained UF 261-213 in total yards.

“We went in and challenged guys at halftime…  about if we want to be a great team,” Mullen said. “We got to play great every snap. We got to execute.”

Jones had a safe first 30 minutes, completing 12-of-15 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown, while adding 41 yards on nine carries. In the second half, however, the starter broke loose, amassing 208 total yards.

Florida’s offense accepted Mullen’s challenge, quickly driving 78 yards for the opening score of the half. It found the end zone on the trick pass from Whittemore to Gamble, extending the lead to 24-14.

The Gators smelled blood in the water after Tennessee failed a fourth-down attempt midway through the third quarter, and they attacked. Jones led a near-perfect drive resulting in a 9-yard touchdown pass to receiver Rick Wells: 31-14, Florida.

The two sides punted most of the fourth quarter away before the Gators added a garbage time touchdown with 1:39 remaining, as Davis barrelled into the end zone from nine yards out. 

Florida dominated the second half in every aspect of the word: It blanked the Vols 21-0 and outgained them 292-162. 

The Gators take a 3-1 record on the road to Lexington, Kentucky, to battle the Wildcats on Oct. 2.

Contact Michael Hull at mhull@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Hull33.

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Michael Hull

Michael Hull is a third-year journalism major with a specialization in sports & media. He has a minor in business and leadership and is a struggling Jacksonville Jaguars fan.


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