GAINESVILLE, Fla.—It was a tale of two substantially different situations.
In the latest edition of the storied rivalry, No. 9 Florida operated well on Saturday taking a 34-3 win over Tennessee in the Vols’ Southeastern Conference opener and likely giving the Gators even more momentum in the Eastern Division race in a strong start to the season.
Meanwhile, the Vols (1-3, 0-1 SEC) struggled, facing many of the same issues that have plagued them for weeks and even making a brief quarterback change. Tennessee trailed during the entirety of the contest, seemingly forced to address its own problems rather than truly compete.
“You have to give Florida credit,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said.
“They ran the football better than us. Created some explosive plays in the throw game. Scored touchdowns in the red area. Got turnovers from us. Didn’t have near the penalties or mistakes that we made.
“And we’re not good enough to beat a good team if we don’t play kind of mistake-free.”
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask, starting in place of injured starter Feleipe Franks, hit Kyle Pitts on a 19-yard touchdown pass to cap the Gators’ opening drive. And that was just the beginning of Tennessee’s defensive woes.
A 22-yard field goal by Evan McPherson and a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Lamical Perine gave Florida (4-0, 2-0) a 17-0 lead at halftime. Tennessee struggled to find offensive momentum in the first half with redshirt junior quarterback Jarrett Guarantano throwing two interceptions.
Freshman Brian Maurer replaced Guarantano to start the second half and led Tennessee to a scoring drive as junior Brent Cimaglia made a 40-yard field goal to cut the Gators’ lead to two touchdowns.
Tennessee’s offensive success was short-lived, and the Vols failed to score again. Florida held Tennessee in check while scoring two more touchdowns — one through the air and one on the ground — plus another field goal.
Guarantano eventually returned to the game and played multiple drives, but Maurer came in again during the game’s waning minutes.
“I think Jarrett’s got lots of ability to be a really good player,” Pruitt said. “And I’ve said that over and over, but there’s times you’ve kind of got to take the bull by the horns and say, ‘Let’s go.’ Got to make some plays and you’ve got to have an impact on the people around you …
“We needed a little bit of that and we made a few mistakes there, so we went with Brian to get Jarrett a little bit settled down.”
Guarantano finished 10-of-17 passing for 107 yards and two interceptions. Maurer was 4-of-11 for 44 yards and one interception.
Tennessee totaled just 88 rushing yards. Junior Ty Chandler led the team with 34 yards on 10 carries, while freshman Eric Gray had six carries for 27 yards. Senior Jauan Jennings was Tennessee’s leading receiver with seven catches for 73 yards.
The Vols had seven penalties for 75 yards, while Florida committed five penalties for 44 yards.
“I think today, we left a lot of plays out there,” senior offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy said. “We beat ourselves today. A lot of the mistakes we made were on us.”
The Vols enter a bye week. Tennessee’s next game is against Georgia, which is ranked No. 3 in the country, at Neyland Stadium on Oct. 5.
And the Vols’ SEC slate doesn’t get easier from there, with a matchup at No. 2 Alabama looming two weeks after the bout with Georgia.
During the break, Pruitt and his staff will be tasked with figuring out what could be a quarterback controversy and, once again, how to address the Vols’ consistent issues.
“Every position for us, we try to play the best players,” Pruitt said. “The only way you can run a program is … it’s a production-based industry, right? Who competes the best in practice? Who plays the best in last game? You kind of work on and see.
“I felt like last year in our bye week, we really improved as a football team. We’ve got so many young guys that are itching to play but they’re not hardly ready. Maybe in the next two weeks we can get some of these guys … and it will help us develop some depth and competition a little bit.”