Following a two-game win streak, Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC) looked to capitalize in Saturday night’s SEC opener against the Florida Gators at home.
No such luck came for the Volunteers, as they lost 47-21.
With six turnovers by the fourth quarter, loss proved imminent for Tennessee in front of an announced crowd of 100,027.
Head coach Jeremy Pruitt kicked a chair and a whiteboard in frustration.
“Based off explosive plays and turnovers, just too much to overcome,” Pruitt said after the loss.
Tennessee gave up two back-to-back interceptions deep in Gator territory. Austin Pope fumbled out of the end zone for a touchback.
On the other side of the ball, Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks picked apart Pruitt’s secondary for 172 passing yards and three touchdowns.
From the opening series, the Vols, favored to win by some analysts, struggled to find a rhythm.
On Tennessee’s first drive after a Florida three-and-out, quarterback Jarrett Guarantano tossed an interception to Gator defensive back David Reese.
Florida took advantage of the turnover. Franks hit R.J. Raymond in the right end zone corner for the Gators’ first score.
Following another Guarantano interception inside Tennessee’s own 10, Franks kept the ball to make the score 14-0 with 4:52 left in the first quarter.
Tennessee finally got on the board with a Brent Cimaglia field goal.
After its first two scores, Florida netted a safety to make the score 16-3. Then, Franks found Freddie Swain for a 65-yard touchdown pass to make the score 23-3.
Florida tacked on a field goal of its own to make the score 26-3 at the break, but according to Tennessee lineman Ryan Johnson, the Vols held hope..
After halftime, Johnson said his team felt “ready to go out and play,” and that they “didn’t let the score affect [them].”
However, trouble continued for Tennessee.
Shawn Shamburger fumbled the kickoff, giving the ball back to Florida at the Tennessee 19. Gator running back Jordan Scarlett sliced through a tired Vols defense to make the score 33-3 after the PAT.
Jeremy Pruitt let loose on the sideline by kicking a nearby chair. He also booted a whiteboard later in the game.
Tennessee finally found the end zone with a Madre London touchdown late in the third quarter. London’s run brought the Vols within 20, but Florida failed to let up.
Tyrie Cleveland – who hauled in the Gators’ miracle Hail Mary pass to win last year in Gainesville – snatched a 38-yard touchdown from Franks in the fourth quarter to make the score 40-13.
Jauan Jennings added one more Tennessee score with five minutes left. Dameon Pierce answered as he sprinted for one last Gator touchdown, bringing the Florida total to 47.
During the SEC struggle, Vol linebacker Quart’e Sapp refused to enter the game in the second half.
“He left the field during the game when he was asked to go in,” Pruitt said. “When you tell somebody to go in, and they refused to go in…we’re not going to do that around here. I asked him to leave.”
Culture change hangs in the air for Tennessee’s football program, and the Vols will look to improve next week against Georgia. Kickoff against the Bulldogs is set for 3:30 ET next Saturday in Athens, and the game can be viewed on CBS.
Featured photo by Jake Nichols
Edited by Lexie Little
Sports editor Jake Nichols has been part of the TNJN staff in two different capacities. His freshman and sophomore years, Jake worked as a staff writer before moving on to write for Rocky Top Insider, and he also worked with VFL Films and the SEC Network for a semester his junior year. When asked the summer before his senior year to return to TNJN as the sports editor, Jake jumped at the chance to end his time in Knoxville working with the organization he first began with as a freshman. Jake is excited to help lead younger writers, much like former editors Cody McClure and Jordan Dajani aided him. Jake also does freelance sports coverage and photography for The Mountain Press in Sevierville, Tenn., and in his spare time, he can be found with family, his girlfriend or driving his Jeep, most likely with his Canon in tow. Be sure and follow Jake on Twitter and Instagram at @jnichols_2121, and keep up with TNJN Sports on Twitter as well!