In September of 2012, College GameDay came to town for a Tennessee/Florida game that the Vols coaching staff had been building towards for almost three years. Tennessee had one of the most talented offenses in school history, and the Vols were able to scrape out a 20-13 second half lead. Then, with 3:15 to play in the third quarter, Trey Burton broke off an 80-yard run to tie the game at 20. And the Vols folded. Florida put up 302 yards in the last 18:30 of the game, on their way to an easy 37-20 win. Tennessee never recovered, and Derek Dooley lost seven of his last nine games before being fired, finishing with a .417 winning percentage that was the worst for a Vols coach in over 100 years.
This year, College GameDay came to town for a Tennessee/Florida game that the Vols coaching staff had been building towards for almost four years. And, somehow, it was worse.
Or that's the introduction I had written at halftime. But after being beaten in every phase of the game for a half, Tennessee opened the second half with five touchdowns before Florida recorded a single first down, riding a 38-0 run to a 38-28 win that took eleven years of history with it.
There may be a temptation to compare this to the Georgia game from last year. In that game, Tennessee was also down three touchdowns in the first half and also came back to win. Resist that temptation. This was nothing like the 2015 Georgia game. In that game, Tennessee had over 150 yards before Georgia recorded a first down. The Bulldogs had a lead thanks mostly to two non-offensive touchdowns. This game? It was total domination by Florida in the first half. And it was total domination by Tennessee in the second half. In the first half, Florida had 300 yards of offense, and the Vols barely had 100. In the second half? Tennessee outgained Florida 319-11 in the first 23 minutes of play.
It was clear from very early on that the Vols were struggling to handle the pressure of the moment. Tennessee dropped five passes in the first half, including one in the end zone and another that may also have been destined for six. On defense, they gave up three passes of 30+ yards and five of 20+. But it wasn't just about busted plays. Florida dominated the line of scrimmage on offense and defense. They easily bested Tennessee's much-maligned offensive line, holding the Vols to just over 3 yards per play in the first 25 minutes and holding Tennessee to just three points on three trips inside the ten (and five trips inside the UF 45). On offense, it wasn't much different. Florida had their way with Tennessee's ballyhooed defensive line, running for almost five yards per carry in the first half and putting up almost ten yards per play on their first five possessions. Florida started three of their first four drives inside their own ten. Tennessee started two of their first four in Gators territory. It didn't matter. At halftime, the scoreboard read 21-3 Florida.
The opening of the second half brought more of the same. Tennessee made it to the Florida 30--their sixth time in Gators territory--on their opening possession and promptly threw an interception. But then, down 21-3 in the third quarter, missing three of their four best players, the Vols defense showed up. They forced a three-and-out. And the offense responded with their best drive of the game so far, a nine-play, 64-yard series culminating in a 23-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Jalen Hurd. And the defense forced another three-and-out. And when the offense couldn't get anything going, the defense forced yet another three-and-out. And after a 30-yard pass to Josh Malone and a 20-yard pass to Ethan Wolf pulled it to 21-17, the defense forced another three-and-out.
And then the Vols turned to Jauan Jennings. Jennings and fellow receiver Tyler Byrd were some of the only bright spots in the first 35 minutes. Of Tennessee's first six(!) drives into Florida territory (not including drives that started in Florida territory), every single one featured a catch by either Byrd or Jennings. And down 21-17 early in the fourth quarter, Dobbs hit Jennings deep down the sideline. Jennings bobbled the catch, trying to secure the ball while keeping his feet inbounds. And then he caught it, and raced 67 yards to paydirt.
On the ensuing drive? The defense kept their heads in the game, and it only took one play for a harried Austin Appleby to throw a perfect strike to Vols safety Todd Kelly Jr. And after a run for no gain and an incomplete pass, Tennessee got Josh Malone in on the action, with Dobbs throwing a 3rd and 10 slant that went for 42 yards and Tennessee's fourth second half touchdown. And do you know what the defense did then? I could give you a thousand guesses, and I don't think you'd be correct even then, so I will just tell you. The defense forced another three-and-out. And three Dobbs runs and a Hurd run later, it was 38-21.
The Gators managed one more touchdown to cut the margin to ten, but the Tennessee defense got one more stop, and the game ended with Tennessee on the Florida one. Josh Dobbs finished with 319 yards and four touchdowns through the air and 80 more on the ground. Jauan Jennings' three catches went for 111 yards and a touchdown. And the Vols won.
This game is not the whole season. There's no guarantee that Tennessee follows it up with a win over Georgia or a trip to Atlanta. But eleven years of pressure are off. The streak is over. I have seen a duck pull a truck. Go Vols.