Despite a third quarter that saw Tennessee force two turnovers and record a pair of sacks, the Vols fell to the No. 9/8 Florida Gators 34-3 on Saturday afternoon in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in their SEC opener.
The UT defense completed the afternoon forcing three turnovers.
Senior linebacker Daniel Bituli recorded a game-high two sacks. His first sack of the season forced a Kyle Trask fumble, the first of his career, which was recovered by freshman Henry To’o To’o at the UF 19-yard line.
Bituli and To’o To’o had eight tackles each to lead the Vols.
In the secondary, Theo Jackson and Alonte Taylor recorded their first career interceptions in the third quarter. Taylor’s came off a pass-breakup from Jackson.
Florida opened the scoring on the day when tight end Kyle Pitts caught a 19-yard touchdown from Trask two-and-half minutes into the game.
Bituli’s forced fumble gave Tennessee the ball at the Florida 19-yard line, but Jarrett Guarantano’s pass from the 3 on third-and-goal was intercepted after a near score by Jauan Jennings with six minutes left in the first quarter.
The Gators added a 22-yard field goal early in the second quarter and a one-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1 to end the second quarter and take a 17-0 lead into halftime.
UT’s offense also got a shakeup in the second half as true freshman quarterback Brian Maurer started the third quarter. Hailing from nearby Ocala, Fla., he threw for 46 yards on 3-of-6 passing on the drive to move the Vols into field goal range. The drive was capped by Brent Cimaglia’s nation-leading ninth consecutive field goal this season to make the score 17-3.
The Vols couldn’t capitalize on interceptions by Jackson and Taylor and the Gators added a Freddie Swain touchdown catch and a Dameon Pierce rushing score before capping the day with an Evan McPherson 37-yard field goal with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
Though the Vols struggled offensively, Jennings had a milestone day. UT’s opening drive saw Jennings become the 22nd Vol to reach the 100-reception milestone. The catch came on a six-yard toss from Guarantano. Jennings finished the game with seven catches for 73 yards. He is now tied for 16th on the Vols’ all-time reception list with 106 catches.
Quavaris Crouch recorded his first career carry in the third quarter, going four yards for a first down.
The Vols return to Neyland Stadium on Saturday, October 5 to host No. 3 Georgia.