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Florida's dominant defense limited Tennessee to 220 yards to ease QB Tyler Murphy into the game.

Saturday September 21, 2013Defense Does Its Job -- Allows Murphy to Calmly Do His

Florida's dominant defense limited Tennessee to 220 yards to ease QB Tyler Murphy into the game.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The weight of the Gator Nation was suddenly on the shoulders of a quarterback who had never attempted a pass and whose most pressure-packed action of a career had been holding for place kickers.

So one by one, starting with pass-rushing brute Ronald Powell, Florida’s defensive players approached Tyler Murphy on the sidelines. Whether it was cornerback Cody Riggs, safety Jaylen Watkins or linebacker Mike Taylor, they all had a varied version of the same message. 

"We got your back, man."

"Relax and just do what you do in practice."

"You’ve earned this."

The message was the same as it was clear, especially as the UF defense did its part in forcing six turnovers and let Murphy ease into his battlefield promotion during a 31-17 victory over the Southeastern Conference East rival Tennessee in the league opener for both teams at the “Swamp.” 

“When you have a great defense like that, you don’t have to force things or try too much to put the game on your shoulders,” Murphy said. “You just need to do your job and let them do theirs.” 

The UF defense could not wait to get on the field against the Vols. For two weeks, the Gators had been reminded -- and reminded again -- by Coach Will Muschamp about the two early tone-setting touchdowns surrendered in that frustrating loss at Miami. 

“It was hell, man,” senior defensive lineman Dominique Easley said. “He doesn’t expect anything but perfection, so we can’t get mad at him for getting mad at us for messing up on busted plays and coverages. We’re not supposed to be like that. We have to respond and play at the level he expects of us.”

Six forced turnovers ought to do it, right? 

“Six might not be enough for him,” Riggs said. “I’m sure he’ll let us know.” 

Actually, Muschamp let it be known he was OK with how his defense performed in limiting the Volunteers to only 220 yards of total offense, including just 66 on the ground. At halftime, with UF leading 17-7, the Vols had a measly 31 yards on 25 plays. 

“They gave us some breathing room,” the coach said. 

Needed it, too. 

Of UF’s first offensive seven possessions, one ended with a fumbled snap to the punter, one on an interception returned for a touchdown and two others on lost fumbles. But the only time the Vols scored was on the interception -- and there was nothing the Florida defense could do about that. 

Come to think of it, Muschamp may have thought otherwise.

That's sarcasm, by the way.  

"Our guys understand what's expected here and how we are going to play,” he said. “They are a competitive bunch and they also understand when it's right and when it's not right. They understood we didn't perform very well at Miami. We need to play better and we can play better. We can be a difference in every game if we play the way we're capable of playing."

That very trait reared itself all afternoon against the Vols. 

After punter Kyle Christy let the center exchange sail through his hands at his own 15, sophomore defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., blew up a handoff between quarterback Nathan Peterman and tailback Raijon Neal and recovered the loose ball. 

On UT’s next possession, it was Fowler again forcing a fumble, this time deep in Vols territory to set up a field goal. 

“When he challenges us, our defense takes that seriously,” Fowler said. “We had a big chip on our shoulder today.” 

The Gators added a pair of tipped-ball interceptions, one from cornerback Brian Poole and another from defensive lineman Darius Cummings, that UF’s offense converted into touchdowns. On the later, the 6-foot-1, 300-pound Cummings appeared to have a path to rumble his way to a touchdown, until he tripped either on Easley’s foot or his own. 

“The dude is too slow,” Easley said. 

“I think a sniper way up in the stadium took him down,” Riggs said. “Or maybe he tripped over a love bug.” 

It was one of the few stumbles on the day for the UF defense. The Gators gave up two scoring drives (one ended in a field goal, one in a touchdown) in the second half, but also added two more interceptions on UT’s final three possessions to salt the game away. 

“I think we played lights out,” Cummings said. “I’m not sure what happened on those couple drives, but we played great most of the game. That’s what happens when you have NFL talent. For me, it’s a great opportunity to play alongside these guys.” 


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