KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With the final seconds of the first half ticking away, and Florida at the goal line trying to tie the game before the break, Tennessee’s defense came up big on consecutive plays from the 1-yard line.
The Volunteers stuffed the Gators twice, forcing a short field goal and preserving a halftime lead. At that time Florida had 86 rushing yards but had yet to prove it could drive the length of the field.
Then came the final three minutes of the third quarter, when Florida scored twice on big plays and the Vols’ defense never recovered. The Gators gashed UT for 170 rushing yards in the third quarter and with each new fourth-quarter series, the Vols’ defense looked progressively more shell-shocked, and even confused in pre-snap assignments. Florida finished with 555 yards of total offense, 336 on the ground.
Florida had six plays of 20-plus yards in the second half and running back Mike Gillislee, who came into the game questionable because of a groin injury, ran for 101 of his 115 yards in the deciding second half of Saturday’s 37-20 Florida win.
“Well, we had a good game going until late in the third,” UT coach Derek Dooley said. “Then we just gave up some huge plays and never could get it going on offense. We never recovered.
“We didn’t play very well on our run fix. They gutted us in that wildcat. When the ball broke out, we looked like we were lumbering to get there.”
It was a third quarter in which the ebb and flow of emotion went from Tennessee fans bouncing with confidence after stopping a fake punt attempt in Florida territory with a seven-point lead, to sitting quietly on their hands after the Gators scored two touchdowns in the final three minutes to retake a seven-point lead. And it happened lightning fast.
After Tennessee had pulled out to the seven-point lead in the third quarter, Florida needed just one play and 12 seconds to tie it as Trey Burton faked a handoff out of the wildcat and followed his blockers through a hole on the right side before racing down the visitors’ sideline, breaking one tackle on the way to the end zone.
That was the first of three scoring drives of just three plays or less, each covering at least 70 yards, as Florida outscore Tennessee 24-6 in the second half. Included in that list of big-play scores was a third-and-7 conversion when Jeff Driskel hit Frankie Hammond for a 75-yard score that gave Florida a two-touchdown lead.
“Their big plays definitely affected us. Seeing them running down the field like that got to us,” Vols linebacker A.J. Johnson said. “It was a lot of mistakes on our parts, not being where we were supposed to be to make the plays.
Meanwhile, a Tennessee offense that accumulated 220 first-half yards managed just 120 in the second half, ending the game with three three-and-out series. In the previous two games against the Gators, UT rushed for 29 yards and minus-9, but it began this game showing signs of life on the ground. But after a promising 67 first-half yards, the Vols gained just 16 in the second half, putting even more pressure on the defense to make stops.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...