3:30 PM ET, September 17, 2011
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, FL
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Chris Rainey slipped out of the backfield, caught the ball in the middle of the field and turned toward the end zone.
No one was around him. No one was going to catch him, either. Not this time.
Rainey had 233 total yards, including an 83-yard touchdown catch, and No. 16 Florida beat rival Tennessee 33-23 Saturday to extend two decades of dominance in the Southeastern Conference series.
Rainey finished with 108 yards rushing, 104 yards receiving and blocked a punt that led to a field goal. His touchdown pretty much sealed it, allowing the Gators (3-0, 1-0) to push their winning streak in the series to seven games.
"Rainey is a special athlete," quarterback John Brantley said. "He's really grown up. He deserves all this he's doing."
Florida has won 16 of 22 since the Eastern Division teams started playing annually in 1990. The Volunteers (2-1, 0-1) had hoped to snap the streak with quarterback Tyler Bray, but the game ended with another Florida celebration in the Swamp.
Rainey and a swarming defense had a lot to do with it.
Rainey proved again to be the team's most valuable player. And he did it with Florida legend and Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith roaming the sideline.
Rainey became the first Florida player since Percy Harvin in 2007 to have 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in the same game.
"He talks a lot, but he doesn't complain about anything," Gators coach Will Muschamp said. "He works awful hard, he works extremely hard. Playing football, playing at Florida is really important to him."
Rainey also returned three punts for 21 yards, giving him 563 all-purpose yards through three games.
Florida's defense has been nearly as good. After allowing just a field goal in the first two games, the unit was equally impressive against the Volunteers despite dropping five would-be interceptions and getting flagged for six pass interference penalties.
After the fifth one, Bray hooked up with tight end Mychak Rivera for an 18-yard score that cut Florida's lead to 33-23 with 4:46 remaining.
It could have been closer, but Tennessee failed on a 2-point conversion in the third quarter. Bray's final pass was intercepted, ending Tennessee's slim shot at a comeback.
Bray completed 26 of 48 passes for 288 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also was sacked three times and hit way more often.
He played much of the game without his top target, though.
Justin Hunter, who entered the game leading the league in receiving and ranking 10th nationally, injured his left knee on the Volunteers' opening drive and did not return.
"It's tough losing one of your go-to guys as a quarterback," Bray said. "But hey, we still had all three quarters to come back and make plays, which we failed to do."
It was a huge setback for the Volunteers, who had hoped to attack Florida's inexperienced secondary. The Gators took advantage of his absence, holding the Volunteers to 279 yards and using a variety of blitzes to pressure Bray.
"We lost," Bray said. "There is always what-ifs. What if I don't throw two picks? What if I throw five touchdowns?"
Brantley had fewer issues for Florida. He completed 14 of 23 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns, both coming on short dumps. Brantley found Trey Burton wide open in the end zone for a 1-yard score to cap Florida's opening possession, then tossed a pass to Rainey over the middle in the third. Rainey turned up field and found no one around him.
"I saw the biggest hole I've ever seen in my life and I took off," Rainey said.
He made it look easy from there, using a couple open-field moves to outrun everyone to the end zone. He didn't get caught, either -- a problem for him in the past.
It was Florida's longest pass play since Danny Wuerffel and Jacquez Green hooked up for an 85-yard score in 1996.
The Gators had some anxious moments before Rainey's catch and score. Because of penalties, poor execution and a sack, the Gators struggled in the red zone and had to settle for two short field goals and a 13-0 lead.
Caleb Sturgis made it 16-0 in the second quarter with his 46-yarder.
The score and the Volunteers' inept running game -- they had 3 yards rushing at halftime -- made them one-dimensional for the rest of the game.
Bray connected with Marlin Lane for an 8-yard touchdown late in the first half, then found Da'Rick Rogers for a 14-yarder late in the third. That made it 30-13, and coach Derek Dooley made a questionable call by going for two. The Volunteers failed, leaving them three scores down heading into the final 15 minutes.
Rogers jawed with Gators safety Matt Elam following the touchdown -- a continuation of their Twitter exchange during the week -- but Elam simply pointed to the scoreboard.
Enough said, especially in this rivalry.
Florida's seven-game winning streak is its longest since the teams first played in 1916. Tennessee won the first 10 meetings, but it has been all Florida of late.
"I heard about that little streak this week," Brantley said. "It always feels good to beat Tennessee."
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... Matt Elam intercepted Tyler Bray with just under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
Gameball goes to... Chris Rainey, who had 108 yards rushing and 104 receiving, including an 83-yard TD.
Stat of the game... 7. Florida won its seventh straight in the series, the last five by double digits.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||4-12||4-13|
|4th Down Conversions||0-1||1-1|
|TD||10:45||Trey Burton 1 Yd Pass From John Brantley (Caleb Sturgis Kick)||0||7|
|FG||01:10||Caleb Sturgis 28 Yd||0||10|
|FG||11:57||Caleb Sturgis 30 Yd||0||13|
|FG||08:31||Caleb Sturgis 46 Yd||0||16|
|TD||01:43||Marlin Lane 8 Yd Pass From Tyler Bray (Michael Palardy Kick)||7||16|
|TD||11:41||Trey Burton 1 Yd Run (Caleb Sturgis Kick)||7||23|
|TD||08:08||Chris Rainey 83 Yd Pass From John Brantley (Caleb Sturgis Kick)||7||30|
|TD||04:25||Da'Rick Rogers 14 Yd Pass From Tyler Bray (Two-Point Pass Conversion Failed)||13||30|
|FG||13:33||Michael Palardy 20 Yd||16||30|
|FG||07:19||Caleb Sturgis 42 Yd||16||33|
|TD||04:46||Mychal Rivera 18 Yd Pass From Tyler Bray (Michael Palardy Kick)||23||33|