Florida 31, Tennessee 17: Thanks to defense, Tyler Murphy, Gators survive sans Jeff Driskel

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida lost Jeff Driskel for the season to injury and gave Tennessee a 7-0 lead on one play. Then the Gators recovered for their ninth straight win over the Vols.

It was a moment that could have spelled the end of Florida's eight-game winning streak over Tennessee, and doomed the Gators' 2013 season: Jeff Driskel, down at midfield and in obvious pain, had been hurt badly on an interception that Tennessee returned for a touchdown to take a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter.

And Driskel would be out for the rest of the game, suffering a serious leg injury that require season-ending surgery, according to Will Muschamp — but Florida outscored the Vols 31-10 from that moment on, securing a 31-17 win over Tennessee with the aid of a phenomenal effort from its defense and a stellar collegiate debut from backup quarterback Tyler Murphy.

Florida's defense forced six turnovers, including the three that set up Florida's 17 points in the first half, and Murphy threw for 134 yards and a touchdown and ran for 84 yards and a score in the Gators' ninth straight win over their SEC East rivals.

That defense limited Tennessee to just 220 yards of offense, most of them coming in the fourth quarter, and Vols quarterbacks Nathan Peterman and Justin Worley combined to complete just 14 of 34 passes, throwing two interceptions each. Peterman also lost a fumble in the first half; Worley produced Tennessee's only offensive touchdown of the day on a pretty throw to Alton Howard in the fourth quarter.

Driskel completed three of his six throws, but was wrapped up by the legs on his final throw of the day — and the 2013 season — and forced a pass that Tennessee's Devaun Swofford stepped in front of and returned 62 yards for a touchdown.

Murphy's touchdown pass came on a screen to Solomon Patton, who took the ball 52 yards to paydirt. Florida followed it up with touchdown runs by Mack Brown (24 carries, 86 yards), Matt Jones (12 carries, 49 yards), and Murphy. The Gators offense topped 30 points for the first time in 2013 despite three turnovers.

Florida moves to 2-1 overall and 1-0 in the SEC, and has a lighter stretch of its schedule ahead, ideal for Murphy's maturation. Florida travels to lowly Kentucky next weekend, then hosts Arkansas — which lost to Rutgers on Saturday — in two weeks. Murphy's fate still includes a date at LSU in his first month of play, but his is far better than the one faced by Driskel and Jacoby Brissett in 2011: Driskel was forced into action against Alabama by an injury to John Brantley, and Driskel suffered an injury in that game that elevated Brissett to starter just in time to travel to Baton Rouge.

For today, though, Florida managed to fend off Tennessee once again, and extend a long winning streak in a once-fierce annual series. For today, that is enough.

Star-divide

Andy Hutchins is Alligator Army's managing editor. Follow Alligator Army on Twitter and Facebook.

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