Tennessee football: Highlights from 38-33 win vs. Florida

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Written By Sristi Dumre

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The No. 11/12 Tennessee football team defeated No. 20/22 Florida in a hard-fought 38-33 victory on Saturday night in front of a sold-out crowd of 101,915 at Neyland Stadium thanks to senior cornerback Kamal Hadden’s game-ending interception.

After a late touchdown, the Gators completed an onside kick, recovered with 16 seconds left at their own 47, and quickly advanced to the UT 37. 

Anthony Richardson, the quarterback for the Tennessee Vols, was looking toward the end zone with seven seconds left when senior defensive end Byron Young of the Vols forced him into an errant pass attempt that landed in the waiting hands of Hadden.

For the first time since 2016, Tennessee started a season 4-0, and they are currently 1-0 in SEC play. Meanwhile, the Gators’ record plummeted to 2-2 overall and 0-2 in league play.

Hendon Hooker, a redshirt senior quarterback, had a stellar day for the Big Orange, completing 22 of 28 passes for a season-high 349 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for another score on 13 carries for 112 yards. It was Hooker’s third game with 100+ rushing yards and his fifth game with 300+ passing yards in his career. His 461 total yards were a career-high, and with just three interceptions, he increased his career total of touchdown passes to 39.

Bru McCoy, a redshirt junior wide receiver, caught a one-yard touchdown throw from Hooker in the second quarter, extending Hooker’s run of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 16. Hooker is trying to surpass Heath Shuler’s school record of 18 straight games with a touchdown pass from 1992 to 1994. McCoy, on the other hand, finished the game with five receptions for a career-high 102 yards and a score.

Running backs Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright of UT scored on the ground; Wright had 90 yards on 19 carries. Small grabbed three passes for 32 yards and another score.

Hadden and redshirt-senior linebacker Jeremy Banks each had seven tackles to pace the Vols’ defense. On a night when his team recorded 13, Young had four stops, four quarterback hurries, and 13 total defensive stops.

Tennessee scored on its second offensive series after keeping Florida scoreless on its first two drives of the contest and moving the ball effectively on its first couple of possessions. With passes of 16 and 17 yards to Small and senior wideout Ramel Keyton, respectively, Hooker led the Vols 51 yards in 11 plays. With 1:11 left in the first quarter, redshirt senior kicker Chase McGrath’s 32-yard field goal gave UT a 3-0 advantage.

On their subsequent possession, the Gators answered. Richardson found teammate tight end, Keon Zipperer, for a 44-yard romp to the touchdown zone after the tight end Dante Zanders completed a fourth-and-one play. With 12:41 remaining in the second half, Adam Mihalek successfully converted the point-after attempt to give UF the lead, 7-3.

The Vols came back and regained the lead in just 42 seconds. Following a 70-yard completion to a McCoy who was running, Hooker danced into the end zone himself two plays later from four yards out to start the following series. With 11:59 left in the second half, Tennessee led 10-7 thanks to McGrath’s PAT.

Three and a half minutes later, Florida responded as Richardson completed a seven-yard keeper around the right end to cap an eight-play, 75-yard drive. With 8:28 left in the first half, Mihalek kicked the extra point, bringing the Gators’ score to 14-10.

With 2:50 left before halftime, UF’s Jeremy Crawshaw’s 49-yard punt put Tennessee at its own one and diminished the likelihood of scoring before the break. However, the Vols gained a first down before facing a third-and-10 situation at their own 12 that Hooker successfully overcame with a pass of 10 yards to tight end Princeton Fant.

The likelihood of scoring before halftime increased on the following play when Hooker connected with a diving Keyton for an amazing gain of 43 yards, setting Tennessee up at the Florida 35. Seven plays later, after a 16-yard rush by Hooker, the Vol signal-caller saw McCoy streaking through the back of the end zone and handed the ball to him for a one-yard score. With seven seconds left, McGrath’s PAT gave UT a 17-14 lead that it could take into the locker room.

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