GAINESVILLE -- It was like a game of ping-pong in the first half. A comedy of errors. No. 19 Florida (2-1) tripped up Tennessee (2-2), winning 31-17 after forcing six turnovers — four in the first half.
The Gators’ disruptive and destructive defense, ranked third nationally entering the game, took full advantage of Tennessee redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Peterman’s inexperience.
Florida created takeaways — fumble, fumble, interception — on Tennessee’s first three possessions.
“We forced six turnovers,” defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. “That’s a lot of turnovers. I mean, a lot.”
It was the most turnovers in a conference game since a win over Tennessee in 1996.
Fowler had a hand in two takeaways, forcing two on tackles for loss.
It was a disastrous debut for Peterman, who was benched right before halftime in his first career start. He finished the afternoon 4 of 11 for 5 yards and three turnovers.
“They’re a competitive bunch and they understand what is right and what is not right,” coach Will Muschamp said.
The Gators coughed up the ball three times in the first half too, but Florida’s defense never floundered, and held strong.
“They kept us in the ballgame, and let us catch our breath a little bit,” Muschamp said. “Obviously, sudden change is a part of the game and we’ve certainly done it too much, but our guys know they better respond when they get put in those situations.”
Driskel wasn’t UF’s only starter to go down or miss Saturday’s game, as starting cornerback Marcus Roberson (knee) and right tackle Tyler Moore (ankle) were out, as was running back Valdez Showers (ankle).
Also, starting cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy (thigh) and defensive tackle Leon Orr (shoulder) were injured late in the second half.
Right guard Jon Halapio, playing for the first time in 2013 after tearing a pectoral muscle before training camp, briefly left the game after he was poked in an eye, but later returned.
Muschamp expects all the injured players to return against the Wildcats.
“That’s part of the deal here — man down, man up. Our guys understand that,” Muschamp said. “That was a true team victory [Satirday].”
Gators cornerback Brian Poole was ejected during the fourth quarter after drilling Tennessee tight end A.J. Branisel. The sophomore was penalized for targeting and leading with the crown of his helmet.
Officials reviewed the play and confirmed the ruling. If the Southeastern Conference upholds the penalty, Poole must sit out the first half of next week’s game against Kentucky.
“It was the right call,” Muschamp said. “I don’t have any problem with the call. I have a problem with the rule. Brian Poole was not trying to flagrantly hurt anyone. It’s a bang-bang play.”
THIS and THAT
1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel was honored at halftime for his recent election to the College Football Hall of Fame. Florida’s former quarterback was also this week’s celebrity “Mr. Two Bits,” leading the pregame cheers. … Purifoy had his first offensive touch of the season, a 15-yard gain on the game’s first play from scrimmage. … Florida totaled 44 yards on six penalties — a season-low in both categories. … Freshman wideout Demarcus Robinson served a one-game suspension for violating team rules.