Tennessee had not beaten Florida in eleven years. After several dropped passes and a 21-3 halftime deficit, it looked like the Gators would run that streak to twelve straight. But when the second half started, things changed.
Tennessee receiver and former Blackman High School standout Jauan Jennings kickstarted a momentum shift for the Volunteers with a difficult first down grab that showed Tennessee (4-0, 1-0 SEC) would not go quietly. After a trading scoreless possessions to open the third quarter, Tennessee would go on to score 35 consecutive points before a late touchdown would bring the final tally in the comeback victory to 38-28.
Jennings said the Volunteers took it personal when the Gator secondary had called his unit out.
“All of the things that they were talking about before the game. They said that we were the worst receiver group that they’d faced. We just took that personal because right here is the original Wide Receiver U and we felt like we had to bring that back and we did.” –UT Athletics
Head coach Butch Jones said his team should be commended for how well they fought through their first half struggles to come back and win.
“That first half of football wasn’t us. That was not us and every man knew it. You come out the second half and I knew this football team was not going to be denied. I knew it at the hotel. I knew it today. There was just a sense of calmness and confidence.We scored 38 straight points. Again, we’re talking about starting fast. In the second half we had an interception and after that we scored five out of six touchdowns. We held them to 102 yards in the second half and three-and-out in every single possession but one. I thought the kicking game was big from field position, and we knew that we had to win the field position coming in here. I thought our coverage teams were outstanding, and we’re down a few guys. We had some guys step up and do a great job that way. Again, it was a great team win. I’m really proud of the guys. I thought we made conditioning a factor at the end and we were able to run the ball and our throw game stepped up. Obviously, the big throw on the vertical to Jauan Jennings and also the SportsCenter catch that he made with the ball on somebody’s back. It’s a great team win and puts us to 4-0. Again, I’m really proud of our guys.” – UT Athletics
Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) had moved the ball at will in the first half, racking up 300 yards of offense and three touchdowns. In the momentum shifting third quarter, Florida mustered only 8 yards. Conversely, the Vols who had only gained 162 yards in the first half, exploded for 154 in that same third quarter.
“I knew this football team was not going to be denied,” said Jones. –UT Athletics
In addition to catching the pass that breathed new life into his team early in the second half, Jennings would also catch a 67-yard pass that put the Vols on top for good. Jennings would finish the day with three receptions and a yardage total of 101 yards against the vaunted Florida secondary.
Jennings was not the only Vol to shine Saturday. Senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs would set career highs in both passing yards (319) and passing touchdowns (4) in addition to garnering 80 yards rushing.
The Volunteer defense, missing three starters including defensive captains Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Cam Sutton, joined their offensive counterparts in the second half turnaround. The unit only allowed two passes to be completed in that key third quarter, and was able to make the plays to stymie Florida and get the ball back to Dobbs and company.
Two key contributors were Todd Kelly Jr, whose third quarter interception was his seventh career pick, and defensive end Derrick Barnett, whose two sacks in the second half moved him into sole possession of fifth all-time in school history with 22 for his career. He is now only half a sack behind Kelly’s father, Todd Kelly Sr, who recorded 22.5 sacks between 1989 and 1992.
Next up for Tennessee will be a road trip, their first of this year, as they take on Georgia on Oct. 1. Florida will travel to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt.