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.
With major league teams gearing up for spring training, so are college baseball teams around the country. Tennessee skipper Dave Serrano confirmed yesterday that one of his players is leaving the team to focus on another sport. That player just so happens to be Tennessee’s starting quarterback, Joshua Dobbs.
Unlike Florida State’s Jameis Winston a couple of years ago, Dobbs has decided it is in his best interests to focus more on football this spring rather than live the two-sport college life in Knoxville. Serrano told The Knoxville News Sentinel the Vols’ quarterback is welcome back at any time.
“Josh is a wonderful young man,” Serrano said, according to The Knoxville News Sentinel. “He came out and worked out for, I don’t know, a week total. I think he was out here for four days. He just decided that was his fun he wanted to have and he’s going to go back to football. I told Josh he’s always welcomed here. He’s welcome to come down in the dugout during our home games and when his football career is over and football isn’t in his future, he can come back and play baseball.”
Dobbs was a high school baseball standout in addition to a football star. The Georgia native was a pitcher and a shortstop for his high school team and was welcomed to workout with Tennessee’s baseball team this winter with the permission of Vols head coach Butch Jones. It was uncertain whether Dobbs would be a fixture on the Tennessee baseball roster, but it certainly never hurts to have a young football player stay in shape on the baseball diamond. Sure, it presents another injury risk factor to the offseason routine, but there are not enough instances or examples where working out with a baseball team has come back to haunt a football team to suggest Jones should have turned down the idea in the first place.
Tennessee’s spring practices are scheduled to commence on March 7.
2015 Heisman Trophy finalist and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is the early favorite to win the 2016 Heisman Trophy according to Bovada. In the first batch of early Heisman Trophy odds released by the popular sports book, Clemson’s quarterback was labeled the favorite to win the hardware next fall following a wildly successful 2015 season and run to the national championship game. The valiant effort in the championship game put everyone on notice just how good Watson is. Of course, he was already a Heisman finalist, so he has the college football world’s attention already.
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey, another 2015 finalist for the Heisman Trophy, was tied for the second-best odds to win the Heisman Trophy with LSU running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette had appeared to be the easy pick for the Heisman Trophy last season but his run to the trophy was steamrolled by Alabama, which allowed Derrick Henry to take the lead in the race.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was given a 10/1 shot to win the Heisman Trophy, the same as Ohio State quarterback JT Barrett. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook was among a handful of players receiving 12/1 odds.
Tennessee (3-4, 1-3 SEC) gave No. 8 Alabama (7-1, 4-1 SEC) a respectable fight, but when it came time to make a big play in the clutch, Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs lost control of the football and fumbled away the football to Alabama’s defense as time was winding down in the game. In the end, Alabama held on to avoid a serious upset bid by Tennessee, winning 19-14 to hand the Vols their ninth straight defeat against Alabama.
Tennessee seemed to stun Alabama midway through the fourth quarter when Jalen Hurd maneuvered through the Alabama defense for a 12-yard touchdown. The score gave the Vols a 14-13 lead quickly after Alabama took a 13-7 lead. Tennessee’s scoring drive needed just four plays to a 75-yard touchdown drive that included a pair of big passes from Joshua Dobbs to Josh Smith and Josh Malone. Like a prized champion fighter though, Alabama got the last punch in. Derrick Henry scored on a 14-yard touchdown run to put Alabama up 19-14. The situation called for a two-point conversion attempt, but a pass attempt fell incomplete to keep the score a five-point differential.
Alabama quarterback Jake Coker completed 21 of 27 pass attempts for 247 yards, but he was without a touchdown pass. Henry took care of that on the ground, running for 143 yards and two scores to continue padding his Heisman Trophy candidate profile. though not the case for much of the game, Alabama did end the game with more total offensive yards (364-303).
Alabama will be off next week. The next time we see the Crimson Tide take the field, they will face a likely undefeated LSU team. The Tigers take on Western Kentucky in soggy Baton Rouge tonight and should enter their bye week with a clean 7-0 record. Like Alabama, LSU will be off next week as well before the big SEC West showdown in Tuscaloosa. The game could very well provide more clarity to the SEC West race, although LSU still has games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M to play before the end of the regular season.
Tennessee will return home next week for a primetime matchup with Kentucky in an SEC East battle. Tennessee still has a favorable schedule ahead of them to finish on a hot streak in the regular season. Tennessee must visit Missouri, but the back end of the schedule also features games against Vanderbilt, North Texas and South Carolina. That should lead to some nice momentum heading to a bowl game.