The first half was everything Tennessee fans feared. The second half was the stuff of dreams.
The Vols started in disastrous fashion, falling down 21-0 to a Florida team that looked more confident, faster, more physical and better coached than Tennessee.
Florida may have come out more ready to play. Tennessee, however, was the team that made the adjustments and played the better overall 60 minutes on its way to a 38-28 victory that busted an 11-game losing streak to Florida in stunning fashion.
Tennessee scored touchdowns on five of its last seven full drives. The Gators, meanwhile, completely tanked on offense, coming up empty on eight of their final nine drives. The Gators didn’t record a first down in the second half until 7:46 remaining in the game. Tennessee ended up with a 336-102 edge in total yardage in the second half, with much of Florida’s production coming with the game practically out of reach.
After spotting the Gators three early touchdowns, Tennessee clawed back to 21-10 on a perfectly-thrown wheel route from Joshua Dobbs to Jalen Hurd for 23 yards and a score with 7:29 left in the third.
That brought a touch of life back to a deflated Neyland Stadium.
Ethan Wolf and Jauan Jennings lit it on fire with touchdown receptions at the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, respectively.
Jennings’ play might’ve been the key to the comeback. The sophomore receiver helped redeem a shaky day for several of the pass catchers with an acrobatic grab and run for a 67-yard score after cornerback Jalen Tabor, who was one of the most vocal trash talkers over the course of the offseason, slipped on the play. That gave UT its first lead at 24-21, an edge the Vols would never relinquish.
After a Todd Kelly Jr. interception, Dobbs added a 42-yard strike to Josh Malone with 11:48 remaining to stretch the lead to 31-21. Tennessee’s defense kept getting stops. The Vols kept piling on the lead. Dobbs, who finished the game 16-of-32 for 319 yards passes, four touchdowns and two interceptions to go along with 80 yards and a rushing touchdown, added a 5-yard score with 8:27 remaining to make it a three-score lead at 38-21.
The Gators finally got back on the board with 4:17 remaining, but it was too late at that point. Kelly Jr. scooped up the onside kick and Florida never truly threatened again as the Vols melted away the final seconds in the series-busting win.
More to come…