It was the tail of two halves Saturday afternoon in Knoxville, Tennessee. A Florida Gators team that has been surprisingly dominant up to this point against their opponents, winning by an average of 29 points. All be it against FCS teams two of the three games where the closest game was against UMass, which was a 17-point win. While the Tennessee Volunteers have been in an overtime game where they got a few bounces to go their way, they had to come from behind against Virginia Tech and a close game against Ohio. So the Vols were no stranger to adversity, where the Gators have been on cruise control.
All the talk leading up to the game was the “streak”. Florida had defeated the Volunteers 11-straight times in every conceivable way. Last season was the closest in the Butch Jones era; a last second field goal attempt went wide to give the Gators a two-point win in Gainesville.
This season the Volunteers had all the reason to believe that they can finally get over the hump. They have a seasoned dual-threat and experienced quarterback in Joshua Dobbs, who wants to graduate knowing that he could leave school defeating Florida at least once. They have a very good defense and the Gators would be without their starting quarterback freshman, Luke Del Rio. Florida would have to rely on their fifth-year transfer, Austin Appleby, who played very well in the place of Del Rio going for 296 yards and 3 touchdown passes.
In the first half, Tennessee looked like a team that hasn’t won in 11 games against their respective opponent, and that it was more of a psychological game they were playing more than a football game. The Vols were dropping passes and making mistakes in coverage on defense. It had to be a nightmare for fans in orange and white and especially for Tennessee Head Coach Butch Jones, and going into halftime down 21-3, spectators were probably thinking, “here we go again.”
Getting points on the board before the end of the first half was crucial for the Vols psyche. Knowing that they will be getting the ball to start the second half, if they could get a touchdown on the opening series that could turn the game around, and possibly swing the momentum. A kick return close to mid-field was a good start to the second by Evan Berry. But the interception by Gators corner Teez Tabor at the Florida 10-yard line from Dobbs wasn’t in the plan at halftime I’m sure.
Much like the Virginia Tech game when the Vols were down 14-0, Tennessee just needed a spark or something to lift their spirits and get the crowd back in the game. They once again put it on the defense. A three-and-out for Florida forced the Gators to punt the ball.
On the next series Dobbs was able to get himself composed to drive the Vols down the field, and on a second down play, he was able to find Jalen Hurd wide open thanks to some miscommunication on the part of Florida for a 23-yard touchdown reception.
Three-and-out would become the theme for the Florida Gators in the second half. It’s hard to keep the lead when you can’t get down the field and score points. The Tennessee defense wrenched it up a notch on the Gator offense. Five straight three-and-outs were forced by the Volunteer defense with an interception in between. And for the Tennessee offense, it wouldn’t be a team effort if they didn’t do their part to take advantage of what the defense was giving them. Tennessee was able to score 35-unanswered points in that drought for Florida to give themselves a 38-21 lead.
The Gators were able to get another touchdown, but the drive took 18-plays and over 4 minutes off the clock. The damage had been done. The Vols were able to get the monkey off their back. The whispers and grumbles can stop, at least for a year.