No. 14 Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) brought an end to an 11-game losing streak to No. 19 Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) in resounding fashion Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium. Down 21-0 in the first half, Tennessee roared back with 38 straight points en route to a wild 38-28 victory in a key SEC East battle.
The phrase “tale of two halves” gets thrown around a lot, sometimes more than necessary, but there was simply no way to describe what just happened in a checkered-out Neyland Stadium. The Vols looked lost and sloppy in the first half of the game, shooting themselves in the feet twice inside the Florida 10-yard line with nothing to show for it. But the second half was a reversal of fortune, as the Vols defense started getting off the field quickly and the offense started clicking. Joshua Dobbs shrugged off an awful first half and came back to lead the charge with four touchdown passes in the second half, and one more on the ground just for good measure. Dobbs was Tennessee’s second-leading rusher (behind Jalen Hurd) on top of passing for over 300 yards against the Gators.
Tennessee took the lead on a play that appeared to be eerily similar to a key play from a year ago. Dobbs found a wide-open Jauan Jennings down the right side of the field for an easy touchdown. The score gave the Vols the lead. It was a long passing play last season that saw Florida take the lead on the Vols when it appeared a victory was in hand for Tennessee.
The Vols tacked on more to put the game in he win column, of course. The defense picked off a pass from Austin Appleby on Florida’s first play of the ensuing drive and that was quickly turned into a touchdown. Florida then had to punt after three plays on the next drive, and the Vols scored four plays later. The momentum had swung back to Tennessee and never returned to the Gators’ sideline, even after a 16-play touchdown drive. Nothing was stopping Tennessee at this point, as Florida’s frustration boiled over so much, Brandon Powell was ejected from the game in the fourth quarter for throwing a punch.
Trying to figure out what this means for Tennessee going forward is a bit of a tricky proposition. That is because you just don’t really know which Tennessee was closer to the real Tennessee. The SEC East is most definitely their’s to take this year, with a head-to-head tiebreaker with Florida in the fold and Georgia looking abysmal on the road earlier in the day in a blowout loss at Ole Miss. Tennessee will get a chance to seize complete control of the division next week when they head to Athens to take on those Georgia Bulldogs. A win there and the SEC East crown should be pretty easy to claim, although the Vols still have a road trip to Texas A&M and a home game against Alabama after that Georgia game, so there is no easy path to the SEC East just yet.
And with a challenging schedule ahead of them in conference play the next few weeks, Florida is not out of the picture just yet. The Gators get no easy games with LSU and Arkansas in cross-division play, but a game at Vanderbilt next week offers a chance to bounce back before hosting LSU and Missouri and then taking on Georgia in Jacksonville. Florida can remain in the hunt, but the margin for error has been reduced as a result of this one.
If this was supposed to be the year Tennessee finally came out on top in the SEC East, the Florida Gators did not get the memo. Florida is up 21-3 on Tennessee in Knoxville at the half, thanks in part to a Vols offense that has imploded inside the 10-yard line twice in the first half. Tennessee was booed off the field, while on offense, as the final seconds ticked away in the first half. It has been 11 long years since experiencing a win over Florida, so you can imagine the pent-up frustration the home crowd has.
The tempers flared right from the opening kickoff, with Tennessee being called for an unsportsmanlike penalty on the opening kickoff, giving Florida 15 free yards without running a play. Two plays later, Florida starting quarterback Austin Appleby completed a 51-yard pass to Antonio Callaway to the Tennessee four-yard line. Three plays later, the Gators jumped on the Vols with a short pass from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby for a 7-0 lead right out of the gates.
Tennessee looked to catch a huge break on special teams when Callaway failed to hold on to a punt. Tennessee recovered at the Gators’ two-yard line but was unable to punch it in from the door step on four straight plays. Marcus Maye broke up a pass from Joshua Dobbs intended for Alvin Kamara on fourth down. Down 14-0 in the second quarter, thanks to a touchdown pass from Appleby to Jordan Cronkrite to finish off a 93-yard drive, the Vols worked their way back to inside the 10-yard line and seeing a chance to build some momentum. That hope was dashed when Quincy Wilson picked off a pass from Dobbs to the back of the end zone on third and goal.
Florida turned what could have been three or seven points for Tennessee into a 21-point lead. On the first play of the ensuing possession following the turnover in the end zone, Apply picked up 20 yards through the air with Callaway hauling in a pass.Later, on 2nd and 3, Appleby completed a 36-yard pass to Tyrie Cleveland, and a few plays later it was 21-0 after a video review to confirm Jordan Scarlett had punched one in from the one-yard line.
Nothing has gone well for the Vols, but credit Florida for making the plays they have bene making. The Gators have made plays on both sides of the football and avoided letting a special teams hiccup burn them.
Whenever Florida and Tennessee are scheduled to play each other, you know there will be some smack talk exchanged. Former Florida head coach Steve Spurrier was a natural at this with his sense of humor and with, but current Gators cornerback Quincy Wilson was a bit more direct about his thoughts on this weekend’s game.
“We have a message from DBU to Tennessee,” Wilson said, referring to the Gators as Defensive Back-U (according to Go Vols 247). “Have you ever seen a duck pull a truck? Ducks don’t pull trucks. Nobody has ever seen a duck pull a truck. Florida Gators are going to win, simple as that.”
OK, that’s a strange analogy to make, but we’ll roll with it. Wilson sure is, as he did not back down from his prediction before going on to expand on his thoughts about the game this weekend.
“Yeah, we’re going to go out there and play Gator football and win,” Wilson added. “I know what type of players we have on our team. I know what everybody can do, what we show in practice, how hard we go. I know that we can’t be stopped.”
Florida has won 11 consecutive meetings with the Vols. That streak will be put on the line in Knoxville this weekend in what looks to be a pivotal game in the SEC East Division race.
When the Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers meet for their latest edition of their SEC East rivalry game, they will each do so a little short-handed. Tennessee cornerback Cam Sutton is expected to miss the next eight weeks with a fractured ankle. Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio has also been ruled out for the game due to a knee injury.
On Monday, Florida head coach Jim McElwain confirmed what had been feared about Del Rio when he ruled him out for this week’s game. McElwain also suggested Del Rio could miss more playing time in the future as he recovers from his knee injury suffered against North Texas. With Del Rio out, Florida will hand the offense to former Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby.
Further complicating things for Florida’s offense is the possibility it could be without one of its top offensive players, wide receiver Antonio Callaway. Callaway sat out this past weekend’s game and is said to be questionable at the beginning of Tennessee week in Gainesville. But wait, there’s more! Florida will also be without starting left guard Tyler Jordan, who has undergone eye surgery.
Sutton fractured his ankle on Saturday in a home game against Ohio. Although he walked off the field after injuring himself, he was unable to return to the game. How quickly the ankle heals remains to be seen, but eight weeks feels about right for the severity of an ankle fracture for a player that needs to track down receivers on a regular basis. So if you were expecting to see a Callaway-Sutton matchup, too bad.
Alabama once again maintains a sizable lead atop the latest Amway Coaches Poll after coming from behind to put away Ole Miss on the road this weekend. The Crimson Tide received 59 first-place votes out of 64 to cement their place on top of the coaches poll once again. No. 2 Ohio State earned three first-place votes from the coaches this week after a road win at Oklahoma, who fell out of the top 25 at 1-2.
No. 3 Clemson picked up the lone remaining first-place vote after finally appearing to wake up against South Carolina State. Louisville, despite blasting last week’s No. 2 team (Florida State), did not pick up a first-place vote from the coaches. They did, however, jump up to No. 4. Florida State was dropped to No. 14. No. 5 Michigan, No. 6 Stanford, No. 7 Houston, No. 8 Michigan State, No. 9 Washington and No. 10 Wisconsin complete this week’s top 10 according to the coaches.
Oklahoma and Notre Dame each fell out of the top 25 in the coaches poll this week after their second loss of the season, but No. 21 Ole Miss managed to stay just inside the top 25 with an identical record despite blowing double-digit leads two times in the first three weeks. No. 25 Iowa barely hangs on to a spot in the top 25 following a home loss to FCS juggernaut North Dakota State. Perhaps that indicates the respect the coaches have for the Bison.
Here is the full coaches poll for this week, with first-place votes noted:
- Alabama (59)
- Ohio State (3)
- Clemson (1)
- Michigan State
- Texas A&M
- Florida State
- Ole Miss