It was a game Tennessee should have won. The Volunteers were flat out better, just using your eyes. But it was Florida, after all. The Gators had won 16 of 17 in this series, seemingly always finding a way to get by Tennessee.
But not today.
Josh Heupel’s Volunteers got past the Florida Gators today, but of course it had to be a heart-stopper.
You could tell early on who the better team was. Tennessee marched down the field quickly but fumbled before they could score. Princeton Fant coughed it up, costing Tennessee and early chance to get their grip on this one.
In response, Florida was able to take the lead at 7-3, following an Anthony Richardson touchdown pass.
Hendon Hooker quickly answered, finding a wide open Bru McCoy to flip the field. Hooker cashed in on the ground to make it 10-7.
Billy Napier was aggressive early and often, and it paid off. After a big conversion, Richardson score on a sweep to make it 14-10.
Hooker executed to perfection before halftime, putting together a 99 yard drive to score a touchdown before halftime. Hendon was visibly hurting, but shook it off to take control of the game.
That noise you just heard was Neyland Stadium. pic.twitter.com/ylPxmlWAJ0— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 24, 2022
Tennessee quickly scored out of the halftime break, with Hooker finding Jabari Small to take a ten point lead. Once again though, Florida found an answer. Tennessee couldn’t find any stops on fourth down, and the Gators took advantage to keep breathing.
Easy does it.— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) September 24, 2022
Richardson cut the lead back down to three — 24-21 in the middle of the third.
Every time the Gators had an answer, the Volunteers one-upped them. Multiple busted coverages allowed Tennessee to gain easy field position, and Hooker was money in the redzone when it mattered.
Jabari Small gave Tennessee a ten point lead at 31-21 near the end of the third quarter.
Just as Anthony Richardson was coming up with yet another answer, he fumbled in the redzone. The Volunteers jumped on it, and that ended up being the turning point of the game.
Tennessee finally had some breathing room. Josh Heupel’s offense walked right down the field and scored again, making the comeback trail incredibly difficult for the Gators. A 38-21 lead was trimmed to 38-27, but Florida failed to convert the two point conversion.
The Gators came back to slice it down to a 38-33 lead, but once again failed to convert the two point conversion.
Florida got the onside kick, however — and a stunned Neyland fell silent. Richardson had a shot.... but came up short. The Tennessee pressure got to him on the final play, and Richardson’s throw fell short of the endzone.
Tennessee won, 38-33.
Hendon Hooker finished 22-28 for 349 yards and two touchdowns. He added 111 yards on the ground, scoring another one on the ground. Jabari Small ran for 90 and a score, adding a receiving touchdown. Bru McCoy led Tennessee with 102 receiving yards on five catches.
Tennessee was flat out the better team today, even without star receiver Cedric Tillman. It was a big moment for Josh Heupel’s program, quickly getting over the Florida hump and improving to 4-0.
The Volunteers are undefeated with a bye week next. Tennessee will head to LSU in two weeks to face Brian Kelly’s Tigers.