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Gators, Vols extend several streaks during classic matchup

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The Florida Gators are seemingly all about streaks. Last week, they handled the Kentucky Wildcats for the 29th consecutive time.

On Saturday, the Gators scored an improbable 28-27 victory against the Tennessee Volunteers by overcoming a 13-point fourth quarter lead. The victory extended Florida’s streak of beating Tennessee to 11 and their season-opening winning streak to four.

To achieve win number 11, another streak had to continue. With 1:26 remaining, Florida had the ball on their own 37 yard line facing a fourth and 14.

Up to that point, Florida had converted their four previous fourth down plays. If Quarterback Will Grier could not extend the streak to 5, the streak against Tennessee would end at 10.

Grier found wide freshman receiver Antonio Callaway on the right side, who took the pass, pirouetted, then streaked (of course) down the sidelines for a 63-yard touchdown. After a last-ditch 55 yard field goal attempt by Aaron Medley barely missed to the right, the Gator dominance over the Vols remained intact.

Tennessee extended two streaks they thought had ended at one. For the second straight time in games decided by a touchdown or less, the Vols let a double-digit, fourth quarter lead get away.

They lost to Oklahoma 31-24 on September 12 after leading 17-3 with less than nine minutes left. On Saturday, Tennessee led Florida 27-14 with less than 5 minutes remaining.

For the second year in a row, the Vols led the Gators by two scores in the final quarter only to come up short. Tennessee led Florida 9-0 last year in Knoxville before the Gators rallied for 10 fourth quarter points and the victory.

After such a heartbreaking loss, Tennessee takes no solace in being on the right side of a streak. They have now scored in 264 consecutive games, the fourth longest streak in major college football and the tenth longest in history.

In crunch time, the Gators made good decisions, made plays and did not make mistakes on the field or on the sideline. Tennessee came up short in all three areas.

“Our guys didn’t panic and that was good to see,” said McElwain after the game. “They played their hearts out for the Gators, and the fans and previous Gators.”

When Tennessee scored to go up 26-14 with 10:19 left, Coach Butch Jones may privately kick himself tomorrow for kicking the extra point instead of going for 2 and possibly taking the lead up by 14. Publicly, he had an explanation, but the one point made all the difference.

“We just felt like at that stage in the game, that we had great confidence in our defense getting off the football field,” said Jones after the game. He added “We had an opportunity to come back and win the game in the end.”

During the frantic final minute, as the Vols drove for a final field goal attempt, they were flagged for two crucial penalties and the questionable use of a timeout with 56 seconds remaining.

Despite the way the fourth quarter transpired, Jones clearly is taking the Tennessee program in the right direction. This is a team clearly on the way up.

They are solid at quarterback with Joshua Dobbs. All he did was take off on the longest run, receive the team’s longest pass on a trick play and complete 58 percent of his passes.

This will be an important week for Jones and the Vols. After the way Saturday’s game ended, the climb back up Rocky Top will be difficult.

McElwain doesn’t have an easy job, either. All he has to do is bring his team back to earth and get ready to play third-ranked Ole Miss on Saturday.

This is where coaches make their money.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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