GAINESVILLE, FLA. — Maybe Urban Meyer's defense and special teams should have been getting all the hype.
No. 6 Florida held fifth-ranked Tennessee scoreless in the second half, took advantage of three special teams errors and won, 16-7, Saturday night, giving Meyer a resounding victory in his Southeastern Conference debut.
"That was two sledgehammers swinging at each other all night," Meyer said of a game controlled by the defenses.
The Gators had lost three of the last four against the Volunteers, including two in a row at Florida Field. They ended that streak and got an early edge in the Eastern Division race.
Meyer's spread offense was the biggest story line entering the game: could it work against one of the nation's top defenses?
The answer was not very well Saturday, but Florida was able to overcome its offensive shortcomings.
"Our offensive line is not playing well," Meyer said. "We've got to get that taken care of. It's nonsense. We've got to get better."
The Gators (3-0, 1-0) did prove to have a strong defense, a unit that had several late collapses the last three seasons under former coach Ron Zook. But special teams turned out to be the deciding factor.
"We are not a great football team," Meyer said. "That was a big win by a good defense and good special teams."
Florida got three second-half field goals from Chris Hetland, a walk-on kicker who was benched after missing an extra point last week against Louisiana Tech. Each of his kicks followed a special teams blunder for Tennessee (1-1, 0-1).
"We are a team, and we are all on the same ship," Vols linebacker Kevin Simon said. "If special teams break down, it hurts me, too. I appreciate their effort, but it wasn't good enough tonight."
Jonathan Hefney fumbled a punt after Florida's opening possession of the third quarter. James Smith hit Hefney after the gaffe, preventing him from picking up the ball, and Tremaine McCollum recovered it.
The Gators had the ball at the 28, but Chris Leak got sacked on the first play and they had to settle for a field goal and a 10-7 lead.
Tennessee made an even bigger miscue on the ensuing possession.
The Vols tried a fake punt on fourth-and-9 from their 32 - a rare trick play for coach Phillip Fulmer. Punter Britton Colquitt's pass was nearly picked off by Tony Joiner. Nonetheless, the Gators got great field position again. But Leak was sacked for the fifth time, and Florida settled for another field goal to go up 13-7 with about 5 minutes to play in the third.
The Vols got the ball back, but their next drive ended with an eight-yard punt. Florida got close to the end zone, but ended up with a 20-yard field goal.
"Our defense played their hearts out," Simon said. "We just made more mistakes than Florida's defense did."