July 14, 2024

Tennessee overcomes sluggish first half to topple Florida, 38-28

Despite four first-half trips into Florida territory with no points, Tennessee found an explosive offense in the second half to end an 11-game losing streak to the Gators.

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones and son Alex Jones sing the Tennessee Waltz after the Vols' victory over No 19 Florida, 38-28 on Sept. 24, 2016.

Despite giving up three first-half touchdowns and going into the locker room down 18 points, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones knew the outcome of the game was less clear than it looked to be at halftime.

“This team was not going to be denied,” Jones said postgame.

No. 14 Tennessee put up 336 second-half yards en route to 38 unanswered points and a win against No. 19 Florida, 38-28.

Despite being out-gained 300-162 by Florida in first-half yards, Tennessee’s offense never lost its resolve.

“(Tennessee’s players) could have folded … and they didn’t,” Jones added. “They responded how we want them to respond, and I’m exceptionally proud of them.”

Josh Dobbs connected with Jalen Hurd and Ethan Wolf in the third quarter for two touchdowns that brought the Vols within 21-17 going into the final frame.

Dobbs then added touchdown passes to Jauan Jennings and Josh Malone in a span of 57 seconds to begin the fourth quarter.

A rushing touchdown from Dobbs put Tennessee up 38-21 with 8:27 to go, capping a 28-point scoring spurt that covered 8:32 of game time and sucked all of the wind out of Florida’s sails.

It didn’t start out that way, however.

Florida opened the game with a five-play, 60 yard touchdown drive to go up 7-0 and silence a sold-out crowd of 102,455 at Neyland Stadium. Florida quarterback Austin Appleby, who started in place of injured Luke Del Rio, connected with Antonio Callaway on a 51-yard pass to set up a three-yard touchdown toss to tight end DeAndre Goolsby. That connection plagued Tennessee’s secondary for most of the first half, as Callaway racked up 134 receiving yards through the first two quarters.

Appleby added another touchdown pass, this time on a scree to running back Jordan Cronkrite, with 14:10 to go in the half. Florida made it 21-0 on a one-yard Jordan Scarlett rushing touchdown with 5:12 to go before halftime.

Although the Vols only managed three points in the first two frames, they had multiple chances to put more points on the board.

Florida wide receiver Antonio Callaway muffed a punt after Tennessee’s first drive, resulting in a Tennessee recovery at the Florida two yard line. However, the Gator defense stuffed two Jalen Hurd runs and swatted down a fourth-down pass to keep the Vols off the board.

Later in the quarter, Tennessee began a drive on the Florida 46 yard line after a short punt. The Vols went three-and-out and again came up with no points in Florida territory.

Finally, in Tennessee’s opening drive of the second quarter, Tennessee used a balanced attack to move inside the Florida five yard line. A negative-four yard rush on first down and an interception by Florida defensive back Quincy Wilson ended the scoring threat.

Aaron Medley’s 28-yard field goal with 2:39 to go before halftime gave Tennessee its only points of the first half.

After racking up 213 passing yards alone in the first half, Florida was held without a first down in the second half until the 7:43 mark of the fourth quarter. Without All-SEC players Cameron Sutton, Darrin Kirkland Jr. and Jalen Reeves-Maybin for much of the game, the defense looked stout in the second half.

“It was the next guy in, and they did a great job,” Jones said of the players filling in for the injured Vols.

After the Gators were down 38-21, Appleby led a 91-yard scoring drive that ended in a 10-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Freddie Swain with 4:17 to go in the game. Tennessee recovered the ensuing onside kick.

Florida had one last shot to make things interesting when the Gators forced a Tennessee punt with 3:10 remaining, but could only manage five yards before a fourth down pass was batted down by Emmanuel Moseley.

Edited by Adam Milliken

Featured image by Sumner Gilliam

Nathan is a junior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He spends most of his free time eating meaningless foods and watching sports. If you wish to contact Nathan, you can email him at wodom3@vols.utk.edu or find him on Twitter, @NathanOdom11.