GAINESVILLE — Even Florida coach Will Muschamp was starting to wonder where the turnovers were, when it came to his defense. On Saturday, the Gators had a flood of them.
After just two forced turnovers in the first two games, Florida caused four Volunteers mistakes in the first half alone - a pair of interceptions and a couple of fumble recoveries - and finished with six, the most by UF in the Muschamp era. Marcus Maye had the final one with an interception in the final seconds.
Dante Fowler Jr. (Lakewood High) started it all by forcing a fumble early in the game and recovering it himself. A second fumble forced by Fowler led to the Gators’ first points of the game, getting the ball inside UT’s 20-yard line but settling for a field goal by Austin Hardin.
“(Muschamp) challenged us a lot,” Fowler said. “Our defense, we take pride in (turnovers) and take it very seriously. We came out with a big chip on our shoulders and we wanted to play hard. We want to perfect it and do what we’re supposed to do and play fast and physical.”
Defensive tackle Darious Cummings and defensive back Brian Poole also had interceptions in the second quarter. UF scored both of its first-half touchdowns after the turnovers.
Joked Muschamp of Cummings’ interception, which ended when teammate Dominique Easley got in his way: “I told them in the locker room I don’t know who looks worse, me running on campus or Darious (on the interception). Darious looked a lot better than I did.”
Cummings: “I was trying to get down there (to the end zone). I was ready to make a cut back to the middle of the field but some people said I tripped, some said Eas tripped me so we’re just going to leave that to whoever wants to decide.”
Coming into the game, the Gators’ first two opponents had no lost fumbles and just two interceptions. Both of those were by Florida freshman defensive back Vernon Hargreaves (Wharton High).
Hargreaves got a start in the secondary after Marcus Roberson was not able to go with a knee injury. UF also played with one of its top offensive weapons on the sideline.
Valdez Showers, who averaged seven yards every time he touched the ball in the first two games, had an ankle injury mid-week and couldn’t go.
With Showers out, Mack Brown ran for 86 yards and Matt Jones (Armwood High) had 49. UF ran for 215 yards - making it 14-0 under Muschamp when gaining at least 150 yards.
Muschamp said he will go with the “hot hand’’ at tailback from here on out, that neither Jones or Brown own the job.
Offensive lineman Tyler Moore (ankle) was also held out. Fellow lineman Jon Halapio started his first game after missing the first two because of a torn pectoral muscle. He was hit in the eye in the first half but later returned.
Purifoy on offense
There had been talk all during preseason that the Gators’ Loucheiz Purifoy could be a major offensive weapon this season as a wide receiver. It hasn’t happened.
The junior cornerback did start the game at tailback and carried the ball on the first play of the game, gaining 15 yards on a sweep. But that’s the first - and only - time he’s had an offensive opportunity so far.
Purifoy returned the opening kickoff of the second half, took a hit on his thigh, causing a contusion, and spent the second half on the sideline icing the injury.
Tennessee gave redshirt freshman QB Nathan Peterman his first career start on Saturday.
The homecoming of sorts didn’t go well, though. He completed four passes in the first half for just five yards with two interceptions and was yanked for Justin Worley, the starter in the first two Vols’ games.
It looks like Solomon Patton, who has seen limited chances in his career, is becoming a major part of the UF offense at wide receiver. He had just eight catches his first three years at Florida, but caught six for 118 yards against Miami and had possibly the play of the game against Tennessee.
With Jeff Driskel out of the game with a season-ending leg injury and the Gators trailing, Patton caught a short pass from backup QB Tyler Murphy and turned it into a 52-yard touchdown that put Florida ahead to stay. With UF ahead 24-10, Driskel also had a 12-yard catch on third-and-10 at the 45 to keep a drive alive that resulted in a 7-yard touchdown run by Murphy that finished off Tennessee’s hopes.
David Jones, Florida Today