The No. 19 Florida Gators (2-1, 1-0) extended their historic winning streak against SEC East division rival Tennessee (2-2, 0-1) with a 31-17 victory at Ben-Hill Griffin Stadium this afternoon. It was by no means pretty from start to finish, but the Gators have now won nine-straight over the Vols – the longest winning streak in the series since Tennessee beat Florida 10-straight times from 1916 to 1953.
In addition, the victory marked a historic winning streak for Will Muschamp. He became just the second coach in Florida history to win his first three against Tennessee – something even the great Steve Spurrier couldn’t do when he took over the program. The only other Gators coach to win his first three against the Vols is current Ohio State Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer (2005-2007).
Meyer started the current historic winning streak against the Vols, and went on to lead the Gators to two national championships shortly thereafter. The question: does Muschamp’s early success against Tennessee also hint at bigger things to come for this program?
Coming into the game, it was no secret Florida had a championship-caliber defense. But during the first half, it didn’t appear the much maligned offense had improved a whole lot since the Week 2 loss to Miami, which was marred by repeated mental mistakes and turnovers.
It looked like it would be more of the same against Tennessee – Florida’s offense was out of sync, ineffective and unable to protect the football in the first two quarters. In fact, the trouble started right away when Jeff Driskel threw an interception on the Gators’ opening drive that was returned for a touchdown.
Driskel then left the game with a right ankle injury and did not return. Florida went on to give the ball away three times in the first half.
Fortunately, the Vols offense is even more of a work in progress. Tennessee, which started redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman at quarterback, turned the ball over a whopping four times in the first half, helping the Gators build a 17-7 lead by halftime.
After the break, however, Florida played much better offensively.
Quarterback Tyler Murphy was able to settle down the offense, leading an 11-play, 79-yard touchdown drive early in the third quarter that put the Gators up 24-10. Florida was able to hold the Vols off from there.
With Murphy running the show, Florida produced 31 points, more than 380 yards and 20 first downs. Murphy finished with 134 yards through the air and a touchdown, adding 84 rushing yards and another TD. Most importantly, he was able to avoid the mistakes that led to the Miami loss.
With the win, Florida is in firm control of its SEC destiny and is technically not out of the BCS title conversation. Could Murphy be the offensive answer Florida has been looking for to help them get there?
One thing is certain at this point: Murphy is the guy at QB for the remainder of the season, as Muschamp announced after the game that Driskel will have surgery on his ankle.
Another certainty is the fact Muschamp’s legacy in Gainesville got a little bit more impressive today as he moved to 3-0 against the Vols.
On the flip side, Tennessee’s Butch Jones becomes the third-straight Vols coach, after Lane Kiffin and Derek Dooley, to lose his first game against Florida. He is now one of four head coaches in Tennessee’s history to not beat the Gators in their first attempt, but it might not be such a bad sign.
The other unfortunate member of this losing fraternity is the third-winningest coach in Tennessee history – Johnny Majors. It’s safe to say losing his first game against Florida didn’t foreshadow his tenure, during which the Vols racked up 186 wins, three SEC titles and 11 bowl appearances in 16 seasons.
Ultimately, there’s still much yet to be revealed about both of these teams this season and a lot yet to learn about Muschamp’s and Jones’ legacies at each school.
Florida is at Kentucky next weekend, while Tennesee hosts South Alabama.