Florida defeated Tennessee, 33-23, on Saturday night. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, which reacts to the game in short order, comes first.
Will Muschamp got his first win in SEC play because Charlie Weis' offense, led by the dynamic Chris Rainey, made good on the good things the Florida defense did in the first half, putting up just enough points to make Tennessee's late, penalty-aided comeback attempt too difficult to carry out.
How Florida Won
The moment the Gators were seemingly guaranteed a victory? Rainey's tremendous 83-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter, the longest touchdown reception by a running back in Florida history, made the score 30-7 in the Gators' favor, essentially putting this one out of reach for a Justin Hunter-less Tennessee offense. But it wasn't until Matt Elam's interception with under two minutes left that Florida sealed its 10-point win.
Last week, I wrote that Rainey "had maybe the best game he has had as a runner for Florida" against UAB. He was better against Tennessee, attacking holes when possible, turning possible losses to short gains and short gains to chain-moving runs, and recovering from multiple audible hits to carry the ball 21 times, the most of his Florida career. The punt block helped Florida roll to a halftime lead, and the touchdown reception was the first long Rainey run I remember that didn't involve him being run down from behind. All that is well and good, but my favorite Rainey play was his last and longest run of the night: He burst up the middle for 24 yards, and carried a Vol for about the last eight. And this was a decided outcome, and no real reason to run hard. Chris Rainey 3.0 is a fearsome thing, and I want to believe that guy can be both a Heisman contender and a reason the Gators will surprise a favored team or two in the SEC.
Jelani Jenkins was flagged for one pass interference penalty and dropped multiple picks, but his speed earned him one sack and a number of plays in the passing game. He's Florida's best cover linebacker by a significant margin, and he'll have to be this good, or better, against Florida's more complete foes.
John Brantley made no crippling mistakes. There were the occasional underthrows that have become customary cuss breaks for every Florida fan, but no interceptions, and Brantley made the throws he needed to make near the end zone; his receivers just didn't come through.
Florida's defensive line, especially tackles Dominique Easley and Jaye Howard, tore through the Tennessee offensive line, racking up three sacks and completely destroying the Vols' running game (21 carries, -9 yards). Sharrif Floyd was a non-factor, but there's enough depth on that line that he might not need to be one.
The offensive line allowed its first sack of the year, but also allowed Florida runners to gain 134 yards on 40 carries. It wasn't all Rainey and Jeff Demps getting that yardage.
Florida's secondary will be berated at full volume by Muschamp in every practice this week. That's more than fair: Despite an impressive performance by the Gators' pass rush, the secondary was vivisected time and again by Bray, dropped at least a half-dozen interceptions, and collected a Talladega race's worth of yellow flags. It's hard to pick someone who was worst from the group that includes Josh Evans, Marcus Roberson, Cody Riggs, De'Ante Saunders, and Elam, but both Evans and Elam had picks, and it would also be hard to call either the best, which should tell you plenty.
Demps' carries on the night: no gain, 28 yards, three yards, four yards, two yards, fumble, two yards (negated by penalty), three yards, nine yards, loss of four yards. Feast or famine much?
Muschamp's intensity isn't going to change, but I wonder if it'll cost Florida later in the SEC season. The best way for a team to make up for bad penalties is simply to eradicate them by playing better, not for its coach to turn violet and spew spittle.
Florida wide receivers, partly by design, had a combined three catches for 27 yards. And Omarius Hines' red zone miscue, a gimme touchdown on a ball that hit him in the facemask and then the hands, won't get him more chances to make plays in the passing game.
Trey Burton gained three yards on four carries. This really isn't a knock on him, because he did get the one-yard touchdown run he was asked to get, but he's got a snowball's chance in hell of becoming anything more than a below-average I-formation back, and should be left to his hybrid position. I'd much rather see Hunter Joyer get carries as a fullback from the I.
Stats and Miscellany Dump
Rainey's only the second player in the nation in 2011 to have 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game.
Florida should fall in the scoring defense rankings. But the Gators have given up only 8.7 points per game, and would still slot into the top 10 or 15 in that category.
John Brantley's now gone two straight games without an interception, the first such streak of his career as a starter since he began 2010 without interceptions in his first three games.
Matt Elam has forced two of Florida's paltry three turnovers on the season.
Florida announced attendance of 90,744, making this the first sellout of 2011. The streak is back to one.