Sept. 20, 2009
BY DREW EDWARDS
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Lane Kiffin couldn't help but chuckle a bit as he took the field Saturday afternoon in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
As Tennessee's first-year head coach led his team out of the tunnel, most of the record 90,894 fans were focused on him.
"They were non-stop," Kiffin said. "There were a lot of F words that weren't `Florida' being yelled at me."
But most of the vitriol was headed for Kiffin instead of his team. And all the pregame bluster and media coverage leading up to the game devoted Kiffin's offseason comments meant less pressure on his players.
"I think it worked perfect," Kiffin said. "I took all the attention off our players. I think that let our players play free. You don't want all the pressure on the players. Put it on me. I don't have to play in the game. I thought it really helped our players a lot. Just go out and play ball."
Linebacker Nick Reveiz noticed it as well.
"I think it really allowed people to not worry about pressure," Reveiz said. "They weren't worried about, `We've got live up to this hype.' Coach Kiffin, he's right. He took a lot of the pressure and put it on himself and not the players. Coach Kiffin, he's got great strategy. He's a big-time thinker, just like Coach Monte (Kiffin)."
Certainly that's part of the reason Kiffin grinned as he took the field. Afterwards, though, he revealed another - a clever sign from a Florida fan featuring Kiffin's former boss with the NFL's Oakland Raiders.
"And the picture of Al Davis made me laugh," Kiffin said.
Tebow vs. Berry: Saturday's game marked the first time the reigning SEC offensive and defensive players of the year played each other during the regular season.
And both Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and Tennessee safety Eric Berry made big plays.
Berry recorded his first interception of the season deep in Florida territory, which set up the Vols' second field goal of the first half. He also finished with a team-high 11 tackles, including two for a loss.
Tebow, meanwhile, threw for 115 yards, and rushed for 76 more, including a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Asked afterwards if there was a better player on the field than Berry, Kiffin said: "Yeah, Tim Tebow."
"Eric is a great player, a phenomenal player," Kiffin said. "But Eric doesn't touch the ball every play. Tim does. The difference is Eric can make a phenomenal two or three plays, and it's a great game for him."
One More One Liner: While Kiffin praised Florida in his postgame press conference, he also got a in a quick jab at the end, too.
"We didn't win," Kiffin said. "But I'll come back for the basketball game with (men's basketball coach) Bruce (Pearl). He's been 7-1 versus Florida."
Freshman Impact: Janzen Jackson started his second consecutive game at safety, and made a touchdown-saving play just before halftime.
Jackson, who finished with six tackles, drilled Brandon James on a crossing route in the end zone, knocking the ball free on third down to force a field goal.
Tailback Bryce Brown also saw significant action Saturday. In addition to rushing eight times for 25 yards, he led all UT receivers with three catches for 34 yards, including a 21-yarder. Linebacker Greg King also saw action at linebacker and recorded a tackle. Defensive tackle Montori Hughes played significant snaps and was in on the hit along with end Gerald Williams that caused a Tim Tebow fumble inside the Vols' 10-yard line.
Hardesty Rolling Along: Senior tailback Montario Hardesty led the Vols with 96 yards rushing on 20 carries and scored UT's lone touchdown on an 18-yard run.
Hardesty has led the Vols in rushing for all three games this season, and all of those performances have exceeded his career high entering the season. Prior to the season opener against Western Kentucky, Hardesty's best performance was 78 yards against Mississippi State in 2007.
James Quiet: James had a limited impact Saturday compared to his previous outings against the Vols.
After a 50-yard return on the opening kickoff, James was quiet the rest of the day. James, who scored on punt returns each of the last two years against the Vols, did not return a punt Saturday.
Rotation: The Vols got some help on the offensive line from guard Cory Sullins, who subbed for Vladimir Richard during the second quarter. Redshirt freshman Aaron Douglas also saw significant snaps at right tackle as well.
Odds and Ends: The Vols now trail Florida 19-20 in the all-time series between the two teams. ... Saturday's loss was Tennessee's first on Sept. 19. Previously UT was 5-0 on that date, including a 2-0 mark against Florida. ... The Vols fall to 33-40-3 all-time in SEC openers.