Five reasons why the streak died today
Tennessee ended 11 years of frustration today in spectacular fashion, bouncing back from a 21-0 deficit with 38 unanswered points to send Florida back to Gainesville as losers for the first time since 2004.
Here are five reason the Vols got there.
1 — Weather the storm — The first quarter couldn’t have gone much worse for the Vols. Tennessee opened the game with an unsportsmanlike penalty on the saw Florida take just five plays to score on the opening possession of the game and then failed to cash in a golden opportunity when Antonio Callaway muffed a punt on the Gators’ two-yard line. The Vols came away with no points when the Gators stopped them on fourth down from the one.
A similar situation occurred in the 2nd quarter when the Vols pieced together a 14 play drive that had them in first and goal at the Florida three yard line. That chance got snuffed out when Dobbs forced a throw into the end zone that Quincy Wilson intercepted.
Meanwhile, the back-up quarterback Austin Appleby engineered three first half touchdown drives that left the Vols in a 21-3 hole at halftime.
Matters looked bleak to say the least, and didn’t improve much when Dobbs was intercepted at the Florida 10 yard line on the opening series of the second half.
The Vols had no quit in them though and responded with back-to-back touchdown drives in the third quarter to take momentum back.
2 — Derek Barnett and the defensive line — The third quarter belonged to Barnett and the Vols defensive front. They simply took the Gators to the woodshed in the third quarter and totally changed the tenor of the football game.
After racking up 300 yards of offense in the first half Florida managed a grand total of five yards on three possessions in the third quarter and failed to move the sticks a single time. Barnett was just everywhere, registering sacks on two straight possessions and seeming to inspire the entire defense.
It was a monumental effort that didn’t only have the effect of getting the ball back to the offense in a hurry. Proving the Gators from even picking up a single first down also kept the Florida defense on the field for virtually the entire quarter, something that appeared to really show up as the game wore on. They simply weren’t the same unit in the fourth quarter that they were in the first.
3 — Josh Dobbs — For 30 minutes of football Dobbs didn’t like a quarterback about to lead his team to 31 unanswered points against a defense that entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation.
At the half Dobbs was 7-of-21 for just 84 yards with one interception, though to be fair, he got no help from his receiving corps who had at least five drops including one sure touchdown.
He was simply a different man in the second half, though he did start the first drive of the third quarter with his second interception of the game. Following that he was near flawless.
Over the next five possessions Dobbs 8-for-9 for 234 and four touchdowns. During that stretch he most definitely got some help from his receivers. Ethan Wolf redeemed himself with a lovely grab on a 20 yard score that trimmed the lead to 21-17. Josh Malone outran the entire Florida secondary on a 42 yard catch and run and to the delight of every living Vol fan with a twitter account, Jauan Jennings ran by Jalen Tabor on his way to a 67 yard touchdown.
For good measure he added a fifth touchdown with 8:27 left in the fourth quarter, carrying that one in himself from five yards out.
Give Dobbs all the credit in the world. He bounced back from an ugly half of football and just eviscerated the Florida secondary in the final two quarters. A Florida secondary, which by the way, had allowed a total of 18 completions in three games prior to today.
4 — Colton Jumper — He’s getting his own shout out separate from the rest of the defense. Unless you’ve been trapped in a mine with no internet access, you’re aware that Jumper has caught as much flak as any Tennessee player in recent memory.
He more than held his own today against a physical offense that looked like they were intent on testing him from the first play. Jumper led the Vols in tackles, had no obvious busts and his presence became even more key when Jalen Reeves-Maybin had to take himself out of the game after trying to play through the pain of the shoulder injury he suffered last week.
Cortez McDowell also deserves some recognition for coming off the bench and playing well in relief of Reeves-Maybin. The Vols probably weren’t going to win this one without solid linebacker play, and they got that despite the best two LBs on the team being injured.
5 — Resiliency — It’s one of Butch’s favorite buzz words, and I’ve already used it once in this space to describe his team after they bounced back from a 14-0 deficit against Virginia Tech, but that effort pales in comparison to what the Vols got done today.
Tennessee looked about as bad as imaginable in the first two quarters of football, and then about as good as the most orange-blooded optimist could hope in the final two. You don’t do that without some major league leadership and a head coach that can inspire some belief and confidence, because after 30 minutes of play, I can assure you, the Neyland Stadium faithful were short on both belief and confidence.
The Vols ended 11 years of frustration with a vengeance this afternoon, pouring 38 unanswered points on a Florida team that came into this game with more swagger than they probably deserved.
Tennessee’s players had refused to engage in any pregame trash talk, despite the ample opportunities the Gators provided with their arrogance.
The Vols and their head coach had the last laugh on Saturday, but without a second half comeback for the ages, it never happens.