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Gators settle for smaller bite out of Volunteers

September 20, 2009|Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, FLA. — Tim Tebow ran for 76 yards and a touchdown, Caleb Sturgis kicked three field goals and No. 1 Florida defeated Tennessee, 23-13, on Saturday.

"It wasn't how we envisioned or hoped," said Tebow, whose streak of games with a touchdown pass ended at 30. "But it's a win and it's good enough for all of us."

The Gators (3-0, 1-0 in Southeastern Conference play) won their fifth game in a row in the series and set a school record with their 13th consecutive victory.

Florida started counting down the days for this one more than nine months ago, right after Tennessee's first-year Coach Lane Kiffin vowed to sing "Rocky Top" all night long after beating the Gators. Kiffin also riled up Florida with his false allegations of NCAA violations by Florida Coach Urban Meyer.

Kiffin ran out of the tunnel just before the opening kick and had 90,000 spectators screaming, pointing and yelling obscenities at him. One guy even tried to torment Kiffin with a poster of Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, Kiffin's former boss. Kiffin said afterward that his plan all along had been to take the focus off his players and put it on him.

"It worked perfectly," Kiffin said. "It took all the pressure off the players. . . . We were 30-point underdogs in this place and it really helped them go out and play ball."

Florida's postgame celebration was about as conservative as its game plan. There was no trash talk and no one trying to rub it in. The Gators were clearly disappointed with their performance, even though they had reason to celebrate.

Tebow was 14 for 19 for 115 yards, although he also had two turnovers that Tennessee (1-2, 0-1) turned into 10 points. Return man Brandon James returned three kickoffs for 97 yards, helping set up Florida's first 13 points.

Tebow's best plays were short gains late. He started right on a third and three, looked to throw and then cut back left and headed toward the sideline. He eluded Wes Brown's grasp, then tiptoed down the sideline for a four-yard gain. Instead of possibly being forced to punt, the Gators scored a touchdown to make it 23-6.

"Unbelievable," Meyer said. "Vintage Tebow. He had a hell of a day. . . . He kind of took that game over on that drive. That was one of the best plays. I can't wait to see that on film. He was this far from out of bounds and got the first down."

Said Kiffin: "Our defense worked hard and you just prayed to get it to third and four, because if it was third and three, [Tebow] was going to put his head down and run over people."

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