KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In a tale of two halves, the latter was an ugly story for No. 19 Florida.
The Gators self-destructed and 14th-ranked Tennessee stormed back from a three-score deficit for a 38-28 win. The victory snapped an 11-game UT losing streak in the series.
Jalen Tabor leaving the game. He cramped up and went to the locker room with the Vols in UF territory, and they scored their first touchdown shortly after his departure. Tennessee had all the momentum from that point on, and Tabor was beat for a TD when he returned to action.
The big question this week was could the Gators have success with Austin Appleby as their quarterback. It looked like we had that answer in the first half, as Appleby lit up Tennessee’s secondary for 213 yards passing and two touchdowns. But the offense completely stalled in the second half with four straight three-and-outs and only 8 yards gained in the third quarter. Then Appleby threw a horrible interception to start the fourth and the Vols took a 31-21 lead off his turnover. He led the Gators on a touchdown drive late in the game, but the outcome had already been decided. Appleby certainly didn’t lose the game for Florida, but he struggled under pressure.
What happened to the Gators in the second half? Through two quarters, they were primed for a statement game and another win on Rocky Top. Instead, the day turned into an embarrassment for Florida. After some impressive play-calling in the first half, the offensive line lost its edge and got whooped up front. The unit was thought to be improved this year but has been inconsistentand could be a real issue moving forward. And Florida’s secondary, thought to be the best in the country, was exposed against the Vols. Their receivers had no trouble getting open and quarterback Joshua Dobbs threw for 319 yards.
The Gators came into the game with the nation’s No. 1 defense, but were far from it in Knoxville. They gave up 38 unanswered points and 498 yards of offense.
What it means:
This game was more important for Tennessee than the Gators, who can still win the SEC East title because of the Vols’ difficult conference schedule. But some alarming issues surfaced for Florida on Saturday.