3:30 PM ET, September 15, 2007
BEN HILL GRIFFIN STADIUM, GAINESVILLE, FL
The trio made play after play Saturday, accounting for more than 600 all-purpose yards and lifting the fifth-ranked Gators to a 59-20 romp over No. 22 Tennessee on Saturday.
|Three's Become A Crowd|
Urban Meyer, right, isn't the only coach who's turned Tennessee's Philip Fulmer into easy pickins'. Those who have beaten Fulmer's Vols three straight seasons:
"Did they really?" coach Urban Meyer said. "Wow. My goodness."
His reaction may have summed up what all 90,707 on hand were thinking as the defending national champions gained an early advantage in the SEC East. The winner of this game has won the division 11 times in the last 14 years.
None of those previous meetings were nearly as lopsided. This was the largest margin of victory in the series since the Volunteers hammered the Gators 45-3 in 1990. It also was the most points Florida has scored in a conference game since beating Kentucky 59-31 in 2000 and the most it's scored against Tennessee since 1995 (62).
The Gators (3-0, 1-0) extended their winning streak to 10 games, stretched their home winning streak to 18 and improved to 7-0 against their three biggest rivals under Meyer. Florida hasn't lost to Tennessee, Georgia or Florida State since 2004.
Meyer treats rivalry games different. He even asked Florida fans to wear blue for this one to reduce the amount of Tennessee-like orange at Florida Field.
In the end, there were few Volunteers left -- and they didn't have anything to cheer about.
"Certainly this wasn't the representation that we intended it to be down here," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said.
Tebow, Harvin and James -- all sophomores -- did the most damage.
Tebow threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 61 yards and two scores. Harvin led the team with 75 yards rushing and 120 yards receiving. James returned a punt 83 yards for a touchdown and finished with 203 all-purpose yards.
It started with Tebow, who was making his first SEC start.
He completed two passes underhand and another one falling down. He hit Riley Cooper and Cornelius Ingram with perfect throws in the end zone. And he ran over and around Tennessee defenders much of the day.
His performance even earned him a kiss on the neck from roommate Tony Joiner.
"I love Tim Tebow," Joiner said. "I love the way he plays. I love the passion he brings to the game. We're close. We've been pretty close since we've moved in. ... It wasn't that affectionate."
It was well deserved, though.
Last year in Knoxville, Tebow replaced Chris Leak and converted a fourth-and-1 play in the fourth quarter that led to the go-ahead touchdown in the 21-20 victory.
He came up big on another fourth down this time around. He rolled left on fourth-and-3, bought time and then threw across his body to David Nelson for a 14-yard gain.
"The guy is just relentless," Nelson said. "Every game, every play, I'm amazed at what he does."
Harvin scored on the next play, making it 42-20 and essentially sealing the victory on the opening play of the fourth quarter.
Harvin shook two defenders, spun out of a tackle and then trotted into the end zone.
"He's a weapon," Meyer said.
So is James. He made two ankle-breaking moves before outrunning everyone else for a touchdown on the punt return. It gave Florida a 7-0 lead and all the momentum.
James finished with 91 yards on punt returns and 102 on kickoffs.
Linebacker Dustin Doe's return meant even more.
The Volunteers (1-2, 0-1) got it even closer to start the second half. Eric Berry, beaten earlier in the game for a touchdown, picked off Tebow's pass and returned it 96 yards for a score.
The Gators were ready to blow the game open, but instead Berry had given the Volunteers plenty of juice. The Vols then forced a punt and had a chance to tie, but Arian Foster fumbled, and Doe returned it 18 yards to make it 35-20.
The Gators rolled from there.
Tebow completed two more long passes, one leading to his second TD run and the other to a field goal. He finished 14-for-19.
"We didn't make plays when we need to," Tennessee linebacker Ryan Karl said. "That was the difference."
Florida's defense was key, too.
The unit held Tennessee to 37 yards rushing. Ainge didn't do enough to pick up the slack. He was 26-of-41 passing for 249 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He was replaced by Jonathan Crompton in the closing minutes.
"That's a statement for us in SEC play and it's going to set the tone for the rest of our games," Joiner said.
It hasn't taken long for Meyer to flirt with legend status as Gators coach. Consider:
• In "big games" (considered those to be against Florida State, Georgia, Tennessee, the SEC title game and bowl games, Meyer is 10-0 at Florida -- 7-0 against the the Gators' three biggest rivals, 1-0 in the SEC championship game and 2-0 in bowls, including last year's BCS title game.
• Meyer improved to 20-0 in games in the state of Florida.
• He also is 10-3 against ranked teams since arriving in Gainesville.
• Meyer also has won 18 straight in September as a head coach (12 at Florida).
• Tebow became the first Florida QB since 1997 to beat the Vols in his first try (something Jesse Palmer, Rex Grossman, Ingle Martin and Chris Leak could not do).
• Who said he couldn't pass? Tebow had three passes that went for 40-plus yards Saturday, giving him seven for the season. The Gators had four as a team last year.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... Dustin Doe recovered an Arian Foster fumble to give the Gators a 35-20 lead in the third quarter. The play prompted a 24-point Florida run to end the game.
Gameball goes to... Tim Tebow. Young quarterbacks typically struggle in their first start against Tennessee. Not Tebow. His four TDs gave Florida the edge it needed.
Stat of the game... 37. Besides giving up over 40 points for the second time this season, the Vols also struggled on offense. Tennessee gained just 37 yards on the ground.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||5-17||5-12|
|4th Down Conversions||1-2||2-2|
|TD||13:03||Brandon James 83 Yd Punt Return (Joey Ijjas Kick)||0||7|
|FG||01:45||Daniel Lincoln 28 Yd||3||7|
|TD||00:33||Riley Cooper 30 Yd Pass From Tim Tebow (Joey Ijjas Kick)||3||14|
|FG||09:55||Daniel Lincoln 22 Yd||6||14|
|TD||05:38||Tim Tebow 7 Yd Run (Joey Ijjas Kick)||6||21|
|TD||01:30||Cornelius Ingram 20 Yd Pass From Tim Tebow (Joey Ijjas Kick)||6||28|
|TD||00:25||Chris Brown 15 Yd Pass From Erik Ainge (Daniel Lincoln Kick)||13||28|
|TD||08:47||Eric Berry 96 Yd Interception Return (Daniel Lincoln Kick)||20||28|
|TD||05:18||Dustin Doe 18 Yd Fumble Return (Joey Ijjas Kick)||20||35|
|TD||14:50||Percy Harvin 19 Yd Run (Joey Ijjas Kick)||20||42|
|TD||11:25||Tim Tebow 5 Yd Run (Joey Ijjas Kick)||20||49|
|FG||04:55||Joey Ijjas 25 Yd||20||52|
|TD||01:14||Cameron Newton 4 Yd Run (Joey Ijjas Kick)||20||59|