By Ron Wynn
Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee each faced a tough road foe Saturday. Both quickly discovered their defenses were not up to the task at hand. The results were not pretty, especially in TSU’s case. The Tigers surrendered huge offensive totals in their 58-27 loss to Murray State at Roy Stewart Stadium. Tennessee rallied after a slow start, but lost to Florida 33-23 in Gainesville at the place called “The Swamp.”
Since 1992, UT has won only five of 20 games against the Gators. Saturday’s loss marked Florida’s seventh straight win. The OVC opener for TSU and Murray State might have been a competitive game had the Racers not established a quick 24-0 lead. After that it was a 34-27 game, and TSU gave up only 14 second half points. But they were already down 44-17, and they never stopped Murray State QB Casey Brockman, the preseason pick for OVC offensive player of the year. Brockman threw over, under and around the Tigers for a stunning, school record 600 yards. His 47 completions out of 67 passes set multiple marks. It was the most attempts, completions and passing yardage of his career, and Brockman had seven touchdown passes.
Thankfully, he didn’t break the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) records for most passes completed in a game (57), yardage (624) or touchdown passes (nine). But Brockman did more than enough damage to the Tigers. His prolific passing was reflected in the yardage totals of his receivers, two of whom had more than 100 yards. There were 13 Murray State receivers with at least one catch. They had 37 first downs. The only thing TSU did right was bottle up their rushing offense. The Racers gained only 77 yards on the ground in 26 carries, but even that good effort was negated by seven penalties for 64 yards. “It’s embarrasing,” TSU coach Rod Reed told The Paducah Sun. “I have never been a part of a game like this where you give up 630 yards (total) passing. They were unable to rush the football, but they didn’t have to. They threw it all over the place. We didn’t challenge people. I am totally upset with this team’s effort.” It was also the Tigers eighth consecutive OVC loss. The Tigers did get almost 100 yards rushing from Dante Thomas (99 on 19 carries). QB Jeremy Perry was 8 for 17 for 86 yards, while Mike German was 8 of 19 for 121. Neither threw for a touchdown or suffered an interception. But the first half flurry put TSU down so far they couldn’t come back, and their inability to restrict Brockman prevented them from keeping the Racers off the field long enough to mount the scoring drives required to somehow get back in the game.
The Tigers final offensive yardage was good, 168 on the ground and 207 through the air (but a subpar 16 for 36 combined completion mark). The Tigers haven’t been savaged for that many points since 2001, when Tennessee Tech defeated them 63-13. UT also had to play from behind throughout their game against Florida. The Gators opened with a nine play, 80 yard drive in the first quarter, with Trey Burton catching a one-yard pass from John Brantley for the touchdown. They added a field goal, then two more in the second quarter. Down 16-0, Tennessee finally put its own march together, going 89 yards in six plays. Marlin Lane caught an eight-yard scoring pass from Tyler Bray, making it a 16-7 halftime score. But Florida then got two straight touchdowns to make things really rough. Burton got his second TD with a one yard run early in the third. That was followed by an 83-yard scoring play, Chris Rainey taking a pass from Brantley and racing through the UT defense. Tennessee tried to answer with a 14-yard TD from Da’Rick Rogers, who caught the pass from Bray.
UT inexplicably went for two at that point (a play coach Derek Dooley later apologized for trying) and failed. They got another field goal and late fourth quarter touchdown, Bray hitting Mychal Rivera on an 18-yard TD. That was sandwiched around another Florida field goal. Bray completed 26 of 48 passes for 288 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He was sacked three times for 26 yards. Tennessee actually had more first downs, 23-17. But their running game was absent, as sack totals resulted in their net rushing yardage being a minus nine. Meanwhile, Florida chipped in 134 rushing yards, led by Chris Rainey’s 108 on 21 carries. Jeff Demps had another 48 on 10. They enabled Brantley to throw only 23 times. He completed 14 for 212 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Tennessee got to him only one time for a 10-yard loss.
One Tennessee bright spot was the play of linebacker A.J. Johnson. He forced one fumble, recovered another and had seven tackles, which tied him with fellow linebacker Austin Johnson for the team high. The Vols also had eight tackles for losses. But they had 10 penalties for 94 yards. While Florida was even worse with 16 for a whopping 150 yards, UT lacked the firepower or personnel to overcome that much loss yardage due to mistakes. “There were a lot of times we were in position, they just ran around us and outran us,” Dooley told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “They did exactly what they thought they would do because they’re good coaches. They’re really good players. Rainey’s a really good player and they do a good job using him the right way.”
TSU’s next game is against the Air Force Academy Saturday at 2 p.m. from Boulder Springs. It is on the Mountain West TV network and radio station 102.1FM. Tennessee has an open date Saturday, then meets Buffalo at home October 1.