The streak is snapped. For the first time since 2003, the Tennessee Volunteers came out victorious against the boys from ole’ Florida.
But not without a fight. Tennessee was predicted to win this game, but at halftime, that didn’t seem like a possibility. Jim McElwain’s offense came out firing with backup quarterback Austin Appelby starting in place of Luke Del Rio. After a score on the first drive of the game, the score was a convincing 21-3 at the half; advantage: Gators.
But at the half is where it all went downhill. Tennessee returned to the field with a sense of urgency. After a lackadaisical first half, they had something to prove. The Vols outscored the Gators 35-7 in the second half, and took the game 38-28.
The scoreboard won’t tell you the whole story, however. The Gators have a lot to be proud of and will learn from their best game of the year. After a rocky start from the offense this season (which seems like the storyline every year), offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier worked with the “Ole’ Ball Coach” himself all week. And anyone familiar with Florida Gators history could tell. The Gators offense was electrifying in the first half with several deep throws and fancy plays. As the game progressed, however, it seemed like Nussmeier slowly fell back into rhythm- the monotonous, conservative rhythm that the Florida faithful are used to.
This is a huge step for Florida, however. Flashes of an electrifying offense were desperately needed, but they can’t stop here. The team needs to utilize the momentum from this game and continue down an offensive path.
On the other side of the ball, the “D” held strong once again…for thirty minutes. But just like the offense, once the third quarter clock started ticking, they fell apart at the seams. Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd shredded the defense and brought Knoxville to life. Cornerbacks Jalen “Teez” Tabor and Quincy Wilson each had an interception in this one, and Florida continues to make an impact on defense, just not enough of an impact this time.
One of the biggest storylines surrounding this game was the quarterback position. While a sprained MCL kept Luke Del Rio sidelined, backup Austin Appleby replaced him to play in the biggest game of his life. Tennessee fans were anxious to see how Appleby would respond to the atmosphere in Neyland Stadium and even set up a GoFundMe page to pay for his funeral. To that, Appelby epically responded, “If they can get me some cash, that’d be awesome… I’m getting hungry, plus I can pay for freaking gas for my scooter.”
But an even better response was going 23/39 with 296 yards and three touchdowns while silencing the entire stadium in the first half. Appleby didn’t let people forget he’s been a Division-I starter before. A Purdue transfer and a fifth-year senior, Appleby has his fair share of experience on the football field. The loss certainly does not fall on Appleby’s shoulders, and he exceeded everyone’s expectations, for sure. Expect him to have another promising performance next week against a weaker opponent in Vanderbilt.
The main area that was lacking in this one, however, was the running game. While Appleby through the ball beautifully, the near unstoppable Florida backs were stopped in their tracks in this one. Jordan Scarlett had the only touchdown on the ground for the Gators, and his fellow members of the Florida four-headed monster were also held to minimum yardage. Scarlett, Cronkrite, Thompson, and Perine combined for just 82 yards, which may explain where those missing 10 points were in a 38-28 loss.
No one is surprised at the outcome. What was the surprising was the Gators’ play. Despite the loss, Florida fans should be excited for what’s to come. The Gators showed a lot of up-side in this one and will only get better. On the other hand, it’ll take 11 more years to rebuild the streak.
Prediction for Week 5, Florida @ Vanderbilt: A 3-1 Florida team continues their road trip to Nashville for an SEC matchup. 2-2 Vanderbilt is coming off an overtime win against Western Kentucky and has a win against Middle Tennessee State under their belt. But losses to South Carolina and Georgia Tech are losses to subpar teams. Jim McElwain’s Gators will be a whole different test for this Vanderbilt team. This game is a battle every year, however, and if the Gators take their foot off the gas, there could be an upset brewing in Nashville.
Final: UF 32 VU 9