Justin Worley may not be the long-term answer.
It’s for sure that redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman wasn’t a short-term fix for Tennessee’s quarterback problem.
Peterman started Saturday’s game, but failed miserably. He completed 4-of-11 attempts to Vols receivers for 5 yards and two more went to Florida defenders. He had three turnovers in a 17-minute span in the first half and was benched at the break.
Worley, unseated for the starting job during the week, came on and put up a few yards – and one touchdown – but threw a terrible interception on an ill-advised throw with 6 minutes left after the Vols had cut Florida’s lead to 14 points. Worley then ended the game with his second pick.
Meanwhile, Florida coach Will Muschamp dialed 911 when starter Jeff Driskell threw an interception and suffered a broken bone in his lower right leg on the play and will miss the rest of the season. The injury will require surgery.
Junior Tyler Murphy picked up the phone.
A junior from Wethersfield, Conn., who had not previously thrown a college pass, sparked the Gators to a convincing 31-17 victory – their ninth in a row in the one-sided series – before 90,074 fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
It was Tennessee’s 18th consecutive loss to a ranked opponent. The Vols are 2-2 and 0-1 and have lost the last seven games against Florida by double-digits – the Gators are this year’s No. 1-rated SEC defense and were going against Tennessee, the league’s 13th-ranked offense.
“There is no panic,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said in quotes posted on the school’s athletic website. “We’re 2-2 and a lot of football teams would like to be 2-2 right now. We have to keep things in perspective as we build this football team and learn what it takes to play winning football.”
Coming on the heels of a 59-14 blowout against No. 2-ranked Oregon, the Vols appear to be a good distance from playing the type of football that can beat the upcoming Southeastern Conference schedule – nationally ranked powers Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.
The Vols host South Alabama next week and are favored to win that one.
“You’ve got to keep believing,” receiver Alton Howard said. “You’ve got to keep fighting. You’ve just got to leave it here.”
Murphy went 8-of-14 for 134 yards and a 52-yard touchdown to Solomon Patton, but more importantly the seldom-used reserve committed zero turnovers. He also scored a 7-yard rushing touchdown and picked up 84 yards on 10 carries.
"Tyler didn't just manage the game," Florida coach Will Muschamp told Gatorsports.com. "He made plays in critical situations."
The Gators (2-1, 1-0) had 382 yards of total offense, 215 on the ground.
“Tyler is our quarterback since Jeff will be out for the remainder of the season,” Muschamp said. “I hurt for (Jeff) and I hurt for us. He’s a guy that’s won a lot of ballgames here.”
Said Murphy, “It wasn’t the way I wanted (to get on the field), but an opportunity is an opportunity.”
Peterman, who is from Fruit Cove, Fla., about 70 miles from Jacksonville, was 4 of 11 for 5 yards with two picks while dozens of friends and family sat in the stands watching his first collegiate start.
“Everyone wants to point to the quarterback,” Jones said, “but I didn’t think we did a good job protecting the quarterback and were behind the sticks. Against Florida, if you get third-and-long you’re in trouble.”
Worley went 10 for 22 for 149 yards and a touchdown with the two errant throws.
Rushing is a key statistics between these two teams, since the winner of the rush has won 23 of the last 24 games. Mack Brown rushed for 86 yards and Murphy had 84 – both totals outdistancing the entire Tennessee backfield.
Tennessee gained 66 on the ground, Rajion Neal leading the way with 42 yards on 12 carries. The Vols had 83 rushing yards in a 37-20 loss to Florida in 2012.
This time around the Vols managed 220 yards of total offense, 154 through the air, but that wasn’t nearly enough when trying to play catch-up against the Gators.
Florida’s secondary became a patch-work bunch as the game progressed.
Cornerback Marcus Roberson (knee) did not play. Cornerback Louchieiz Purifoy sustained a hip injury returning a deep thigh bruise on a second-half kickoff. Defensive back Brian Poole was flagged for targeting a Vol receiver. Poole will miss the first half of next week’s Kentucky game.
Tennessee managed to out-sloppy 19th-ranked Florida in The Swamp and fell behind 17-7
The Vols had four turnovers at the break – two interceptions by Peterman and two fumbles. The Gators had three miscues – a botched center snap on a punt and two interceptions. They wound up with six and Florida played turnover-free in the second half when they gained control.
When it was over Tennessee had six turnovers: four interceptions and two fumbles.
“We can’t make catastrophic mistakes,” Jones said. “If you can’t get off the field on third down, you have no chance.”
In two quarters, Tennessee managed 31 yards of offense, a mere 5 through the air. Florida put up 199 yards, 95 on the ground.
After the Vols took a 7-0 lead on Devaun Swafford’s 62-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter, they managed just 31 yards on 25 plays. Peterman, who is from the Jacksonville, Fla., area, was 4-for-11 for 5 yards with the two picks.
For Swafford, a freshman walk-on defensive back, the catch produced his first interception and first touchdown. He’s the third Vol this season with a touchdown-scoring pick and it was the team’s longest pick-six return of the season.
The Vols came into the game ranked second nationally with six interceptions, two behind Northwestern.
On Swafford’s defensive gem, Driskel was tackled by Marlon Walls form behind as he threw the ball. Driskel rolled to his left, tried to get up, dropped back to the ground and immediately called for trainers.
He left the field on crutches.
Murphy came on with the confidence of a grizzled veteran.
He led the offense to a field goal and four touchdowns in nine drives. The touchdown drives covered 56, 40, 79 and 84 yards.
Tennessee’s lone offensive touchdown came on a 79-yard, seven-play drive.
The Vols took the early 7-0 lead, but Florida scored the next 17 points. Tennessee got a third-quarter field goal from Michael Palardy only to watch the Gators get touchdowns by Matt Jones and Murphy to open a 31-10 lead.
Worley’s 18-yard touchdown to Alton Howard with 10:20 left in the game was way too little to late.
Tennessee 7 0 3 7 — 17
Florida 3 14 7 7 — 31
TEN – Devaun Swafford 62 interception return (Michael Palardy kick), 9:23
FLA – FG Austin Hardin 23, 1:42
FLA – Solomon Patton 52 pass from Tyler Murphy (Hardin kick), 13:23
FLA – Mack Brown 3 run (Hardin kick), 0:37
TEN – FG Palardy 44, 12:17
FLA – Matt Jones 4 run (Hardin kick), 7:08
FLA – Murphy 7 run (Hardin kick), 13:52
TEN – Alton Howard 18 pass from Justin Worley (Palardy kick), 10:20
ATT – 90,074
First Downs 12 20
Rushes-Yards 23-66 56-215
Passing Yards 154 167
Total Plys-Yards 57-220 76-382
Com.-Att.-Int. 14-34-4 11-20-1
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 6-2
Punts.-Avg. 3-41.7 3-37.0
Penalties-Yds. 3-25 6-44
RUSHING — Tennessee: Rajion Neal 12-42, Malin Lane 5-16, Marquez North 1-9, Alton Howard 2-2, Nathan Peterman 3-minus 3; Florida: Mack Brown 24-86, Tyler Murphy 10-84, Matt Jones 12-49, Loucheiz Purifoy 1-15, Solomon Patton 2-5, Kelvin Taylor 1-3, Team 5-minus 12.
PASSING — Tennessee: Worley 10-23-2-149, Peterman 4-11-2-5; Florida: Murphy 8-14-0-134, Jeff Driskel 3-6-1-33 .
RECEIVING — Tennessee: Howard 4-75, North 4-43, Jason Croom 2-31, Neal 1-9, Tom Smith 1-2, Brendan Downs 1-0, Lane 1-minus 6; Florida: Patton 3-73, Quinton Dunbar 4-63, Tre Burton 3-27, Jones 1-4.
TACKLES (UA-A-TOTAL) – Tennessee – Brian Randolph 8-3-11, A.J. Johnson 7-3-10, Dontavis Sapp 3-6-9, LaDarrell McNeil 5-2-7, Brent Brewer 5-1-6; Florida – Jaylen Watkins 5-2-7, Antonio Morrison 6-0-6, Michael Taylor 2-2-4, Brian Poole 2-2-4, Dante Fowler 3-0-3.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)