Tennessee’s losing streak to Florida is officially over.
There was no sign of the streak ending at halftime when the Gators were leading 21-3. But the big lead was just a setup for a memorable comeback as Tennessee reeled off 35-straight points on the way to a 38-28 win.
It’s the first time Tennessee has beaten Florida since 2004 and it positions the Volunteers as the SEC East team to beat through the first quarter of the season.
“That duck is pulling that truck, baby,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said, referencing Florida defensive back Quincy Wilson’s trash talk earlier in the week.
The second-half comeback got off to an inauspicious start as quarterback Josh Dobbs threw an interception on the Vols’ first possession of the half. But a 23-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jalen Hurd on Tennessee’s next possession ignited the comeback.
Tennessee took a 24-21 lead as Dobbs found Jauan Jennings for a 67-yard touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter. And while Tennessee’s offense deserves a lot of credit for kicking it into gear over the final 30 minutes, the defense’s performance can’t be ignored.
In the time that it took Tennessee to flip the game from 21-3 to 38-21, Florida’s offense punted four times and had an interception. Yards gained in that timespan? minus-9. Yes, the Gators were in the red.
Quarterback Austin Appleby, making his first start for the injured Luke Del Rio, played well in the first half. But the offense went absolutely nowhere in the second half and he threw a costly interception after trying to extend the play and throwing across his body while on the run.
Any Tennessee fan can talk at length about the significance of a win over Florida, but the win is even more important given Georgia’s loss at the hands of Ole Miss earlier in the day. Tennessee already has a one-game lead on everyone else in the SEC East and travels to a clearly vulnerable Georgia in Week 5.
A win over Georgia would not only give UT a two-game lead over the Bulldogs, but it would mean that the Volunteers would have the tiebreaker vs. both Florida and Georgia, the two likely contenders for the division title.
This Tennessee team clearly isn’t perfect. The first half was a near-disaster and its offensive line was bossed around at times throughout the day. And wins over Appalachian State and Ohio haven’t been displays of dominance.
But Tennessee is 4-0, one of only three SEC teams undefeated through the first four weeks of the season. It hasn’t been pretty, but as Al Davis famously said: “Just win, baby.” The Volunteers are doing that, and may be living up to their lofty expectations.
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