Posted by Jerry Hinnen
FLORIDA WON: It wasn't quite as overpowering a victory as it looked to be late in the third quarter (when they were up 30-7), but the Gators nonetheless established their SEC East bona fides with a comfortable 10-point victory over the visiting Vols. Running back-slash-special teams extraordinaire Chris Rainey might have earned a few Heisman Watch-type nods with another scintillating all-around performance: 108 yards rushing, 104 receiving (including the touchdown above), and a second-quarter blocked punt -- the fifth of his career -- for good measure.
WHY FLORIDA WON: For years and years, the Florida-Tennessee rivalry has been decided by which team could run the ball. And today, it was no contest: the Gators ran for 134 yards while stuffing the Vol run game to the tune of minus-9 yards (yes, 9 yards fewer than no yards at all) on 21 attempts. Even with sacks removed, the Florida defensive line of Jaye Howard, Ronald Powell, Dominique Easley and the newly-reinstated Sharrif Floyd held Volunteer tailbacks to a miserable 27 yards on 14 carries, an average of less than 2 yards an attempt.
Tyler Bray and his talented Vol receivers got their licks in from time to time against the inexperienced Gator secondary (and forced Florida into seven different pass interference penalties in the process), but keeping pace with Rainey and the Florida attack was always going to be too tall a task for such a one-dimensional offense. And it didn't help -- to say the least -- for star sophomore wideout Justin Hunter to leave the game in the first quarter with a knee injury. Whatever hopes Tennessee had of winning a shootout on the strength of Bray's arm likely left the game with him.
WHEN FLORIDA WON: Tennessee went into the locker room with ample momentum, going 89 yards in 6 plays to cut a 16-0 lead to 16-7 just ahead of halftime. And with the first possession of the second half, the Vols had to like their chances of cutting into that lead even further.
But that possession lasted all of one play--Bray threw his worst pass of the day, an ill-advised gunsling that was picked off by Josh Evans. Florida scored on a one-yard Trey Burton touchdown run seven plays later, and Tennessee would be forced to play in desperation mode for the remainder of the game.
WHAT FLORIDA WON: Even if the challenge presented by Tennessee wasn't nearly as stiff as the one to be presented later by the likes of Alabama, LSU, or South Carolina, that the Gators handled it as comfortably as they did (their 15 penalties aside) suggests the malaise of Urban Meyer's final season is firmly behind the program. Will Muschamp's team may or may not win the East, but they have the kind of defensive front and explosive playmakers that will give them as potent a chance to do as anyone.
WHAT TENNESSEE LOST: Whatever you might say about the less tangible losses in a defeat like this -- the air of belief that sprung up after last week's win over Cincinnati, the longshot hopes of an East title -- they pale in comparison to the potential long-term loss of a talent like Hunter. With him, the Vols looked capable of being so powerful in the passing game they could play with anyone; the evidence of today's game suggests that without him, they simply won't be able to hang with the SEC's reigning heavyweights.