Florida got off to a surprisingly strong start in the first half, taking a 21-0 lead. Quarterback Austin Appleby set the tone early with his 51-yard bomb to Antonio Callaway, and he threw a few more deep balls to finish with 213 passing yards through two quarters. But Appleby and the offense came out of the locker room lifeless. Vols defensive coordinator Bob Shoop made several halftime adjustments that the Gators had no answers for, and they couldn’t match Tennessee’s intensity level, either. The Vols forced three-and-outs or an INT on six straight possessions by stuffing Florida’s run game and taking Appleby out of his rhythm.
Coming off a record-setting performance against North Texas, the Gators gave one of their worst defensive efforts in the history of this rivalry. In hindsight, the Vols’ lone field goal just before halftime had more to do with their shortcomings than the play of UF. Tennessee came away with 0 points on 2 possessions inside the 5-yard line and dropped a total of 5 passes, a couple of which would have resulted in touchdowns. But the Vols scored at will in the second half and exposed Florida’s weaknesses on defense for the second straight year. Two goal-line stands and a pair of picks keep this grade from being an F.
Special teams: F
Florida finally took wide receiver Brandon Powell off kick returns, but his replacement — freshman running back Lamical Perine — didn’t fare any better. Maybe the Gators need to try someone else on punt return as well. Wide receiver Antonio Callaway hasn’t had any success this year and was awful Saturday, calling for 2 fair catches inside the 5-yard line and fumbling 1 of them. UF never could flip field position, gave up too many return yards and Johnny Townsend shanked a couple punts.
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier called a great first half and caught the Vols off guard with some of his plays, especially in the red zone. But the entire staff got outcoached in the second half and couldn’t counter the adjustments Tennessee made. The lack of effort and execution from their players didn’t help.
This was Florida’s worst second-half collapse since the 2003 defeat at Miami, but this year’s loss will hurt much more. It was against a bigger rival and an SEC East opponent, and Tennessee now has the upper hand in the division. UF now needs the Vols to lose two of their next three games (at UGA, at Texas A&M, vs. Alabama). However, if the Gators have another showing like Saturday’s, they won’t run the table in their remaining conference games.