KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — At halftime of Saturday’s game, I wrote a couple quick thoughts on how Tennessee could engineer a comeback for the ages.
Derek Barnett turning into a dynamo topped the list.
Well, the Volunteers All-American pass rusher woke up and changed the game … literally in a four-snap sequence.
It turns out, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop’s “Magic Show” features a grim reaper, as Barnett killed a pair of Florida drives in the third quarter with two sacks and a tackle for a loss.
“Derek Barnett took the game over,” coach Butch Jones said.
“Derek Barnett was outstanding in his leadership and his energy that he brought to our sideline and to the defense. I thought our entire football team fed off of him.”
In the second half, Barnett, a junior from Nashville, sent Gators left tackle David Sharpe to the woodshed, finishing the night with with 2 sacks, 3 TFL and a batted pass — nearly a pick-six in the end zone.
“He’s the best player I’ve ever played with,” senior defensive tackle Danny O’Brien said.
“It’s not even close. He’s unbelievable.”
Tennessee’s 38-28 come-from-behind win was jumpstarted by a defense that flipped a serious switch. After Gators quarterback Austin Appleby connected on three explosive passes in the first half, the secondary tightened its coverage while the front seven simply dominated the line of scrimmage.
How salty was Tennessee’s defense after halftime?
The Gators had minus-7 yards on their first six possessions — five 3-and-outs and Todd Kelly Jr.’s interception.
“Coach Jones came in at halftime (and set the tone),” O’Brien said.
“We usually go make our adjustments first, and then he talks, but tonight he lit a fire under us. He got us ready to go. We looked at each other on the d-line and we were like, ‘Let’s go get this,’ and we went and got that (expletive).”