Tennessee drops 9th straight vs. Florida, 31-17
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)
The Volunteers ruined any chance of ending their losing streak in the series by committing six turnovers - four in the first half - in a 31-17 loss against the 19th-ranked Gators on Saturday.
Tennessee, which has lost nine in a row against the Gators, had little luck with either quarterback and failed to take advantage of a season-ending leg injury to Florida's Jeff Driskel in the first quarter.
''Losing is never accepted or tolerated at Tennessee,'' first-year coach Butch Jones said. ''But I'm proud of our team. They showed resiliency. They didn't quit. They gave us an opportunity to be in the game at the end of the game. We have to keep getting better. We have to keep things in perspective as we continue to build this football program. We took some small steps, but we have a long way to go.''
The Volunteers (2-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) had hoped to rebound from an embarrassing, 59-14 loss at No. 2 Oregon a week ago. Instead, Tennessee left Gainesville with another double-digit setback.
Jones benched Justin Worley before the game and gave redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman his first career start on the road and in front of 90,000. The decision backfired.
Peterman, who grew up in nearby Jacksonville, had three turnovers in a 17-minute span in the first half and was benched at the break. He completed 4 of 11 passes for 5 yards, with two interceptions and a fumble.
''To beat a team at home, you can't turn the football over,'' Jones said. ''Way too many turnovers.''
Worley wasn't a whole lot better against Florida (2-1, 1-0), whose defense has been mostly dominant through three games.
Worley, who started the first three games, finished 10 of 23 for 149 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions.
''It hurts being the starter for the first three games and knowing that I wasn't doing enough for their liking,'' Worley said. ''But once again, as a quarterback or any position, you're always one snap away from being in the game. It helped Nate and I to have the competition. We both had a great week of preparation and we can both benefit from it.''
Just about everyone in the stands expected Tennessee to benefit from Driskel's injury. He broke his lower right leg while getting dragged down by Marlon Walls.
But seldom-used backup Tyler Murphy played better than anyone could have realistically expected.
He had a 52-yard touchdown throw to Solomon Patton, a swing pass that went the distance, and made several huge plays with his legs as Florida extended its domination in the series.
It was a solid debut for a junior whose only pass attempt came on a 2-point attempt two weeks ago.
''It was always in the back of my mind that I might never play,'' Murphy said. ''I just kept working hard and kept fighting and kept faith in myself and kept praying for an opportunity. It wasn't the way I wanted it, but an opportunity is an opportunity.''
Murphy's 7-yard TD scamper in the fourth quarter made it 31-10 and sent fans scrambling for the exits.
Worley got the Vols back in it with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Pig Howard in the fourth.
It came with Florida down three defensive backs.
Cornerback Marcus Roberson (knee) missed the game, and fellow cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy left after sustaining a thigh bruise in the second half. Defensive back Brian Poole was ejected early in the fourth quarter for targeting. The play was upheld after review, meaning Poole will miss the first half of next week's game at Kentucky.
Tennessee had a chance to make it a nail-biter - Worley got the Vols to the Florida 23-yard line - but he missed on four consecutive passes. The Gators ran out the final 2-plus minutes from there.
''I thought we really grew up in the second half,'' Worley said. ''We knew we had a fighting chance. We put our head down and went after them. It's still a work in progress. We're a play here and there, a catch, a broken tackle away from being really explosive.''