KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Twelve years of Tennessee frustration erupted in the second half Saturday afternoon, the Vols bringing Florida’s streak of domination in the rivalry series to a Rocky Stop.
Tennessee scored a 38-28 win over the Gators, snapping its 11-game losing streak to Florida that dated to 2004.
The Vols (4-0) had to rally to win their 10th game in a row dating to last season, bringing the sellout crowd of 102,455 to life in Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee trailed the Gators (3-1) by a 21-3 count at halftime but turned things around in the third quarter, outgaining Florida 154-8 and cutting the deficit to 21-17 entering the final stanza.
Jauan Jenning’s 67-yard touchdown catch with 12:45 left gave the Vols their first lead of the game, 24-21.
Jennings’ catch was of the highlight variety, a juggling grab that he completed by tightroping the sideline and outracing Marcell Harris to the end zone.
Gators QB Austin Appleby was intercepted on the first play of the ensuing series, and three plays later, Josh Malone cut across the middle for a 42-yard TD catch that made it 31-21 with 11:46 left.
The Vols made it 38-21 on their next possession, Josh Dobbs keeping for a 5-yard TD run that took the life out of Florida.
Tennessee had a late double-digit lead last season in Gainesville, only to lose 28-27.
But this Saturday was different, the Vols staging a dramatic second-half comeback like no other in the series history.
Florida’s defense entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation, but after not allowing a TD pass in the first three games, Dobbs struck for four in a 15-minute span.
Dobbs was 16-of-32 passing for 319 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions, and he also rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
Appleby was 23-of-39 for 296 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
Five things learned
• The Vols’ offseason conditioning was no joke. As Gators started dropping all over the field in the second half with cramps, Tennessee stayed healthy and turned the game around.
• UT coordinators Bob Shoop and Mike DeBord aced their halftime adjustments, the Vols outgaining Florida 154-8 in the third quarter and stealing momentum.
• Tennessee needs a goal-line package. The Vols’ shotgun package was ineffective, as UT failed to get into the end zone on its first two trips inside the Gators’ 5-yard line in the first half.
• Jugs work needed. The Vols dropped six passes in the first half, including three third-down drops.
• The Vols defense is quickly getting depleted. Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin left the game early, joining sidelined cornerback Cam Sutton and middle linebacker Darrin Kirkland Jr. on the injury report. Reeves-Maybin tried to return in the third quarter but was ineffective.
• Tennessee’s third-and-1 stop on Florida’s opening drive of the second half was clutch, as linebacker Colton Jumper and corner Emmanuel Moseley cut down Jordan Scarlett in the open field. It set the tone, as the Gators gained just 8 yards in the third quarter.
• Tennessee proved it was worthy of the preseason accolades, showing the talent and coaching to overcome a 21-3 deficit.
• The Vols will be tested before they can win the SEC East, with a rugged stretch of games ahead: at Georgia and at Texas A&M, followed by a home date with Alabama.
• Tennessee was outgained 300-162 in the first half and had come up empty on three trips inside the Florida 30, including two inside the 5.
What it means
• The Vols are back to their favored status in the SEC East, having answered the questions about their legitimacy as a contender.