More than 100,000 Tennessee fans were loudly and proudly singing Rocky Top after their 38-28 comeback win against the Florida Gators on Saturday. They may have quietly hummed a few bars of Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.
After 11 straight losses to Florida, Tennessee finally walked off the field as a winner. That did not appear to be a likely scenario after the first 30 minutes.
For a half, Florida fans were probably practicing their best version of The Beat Goes On. Florida’s backup quarterback, Austin Appleby, looked poised in the first half. Meanwhile the Gator defense was keeping Tennessee at bay.
Appleby took the Gators to the end zone on their first drive. Even when Florida made a mistake, the defense came through. When Antonio Callaway made a critical mistake of fumbling away a punt at his own two yard line, the defense made a goal line stand.
Appleby then led the Gators on a 93-yard touchdown drive for a 14-0 lead. Tennessee then drove to the Florida seven yard line, but quarterback Joshua Cribbs was picked off in the end zone. The Gators then went on an 80-yard drive, making it 21-0.
What in the name of Lane Kiffin was going on?
The second half showed this batch of Volunteers has some character. From that point, they totally dominated the Gators, outscoring them 35-7.
Some thought Saturday’s game was a must win for Head Coach Butch Jones. Maybe his players felt that way at half time. What did he say in the locker room to incite such a comeback?
“Just one play at a time,” he said on the field after the game. “We didn’t play our best football in the first half. We all knew that. It was all on us.”
It is safe to say they played their best football in the second half.
After a lackluster first half, Cribbs came to life and threw four touchdown passes and ran for another score in the second half. He finished with 319 yards passing and 80 yards rushing.
The Volunteers’ defense completely suffocated the Gators. Florida did not earn a second half first down until 7:46 remained in the game. Their final touchdown with 4:17 remaining ended a Tennessee run of 38 consecutive points.
“We came out and played a great second half,” added Jones, who conducted the Tennessee band in a rendition of Rocky Top after the game. “Now we’re 4-0.”
For his part, Appleby did a credible job filling in for Luke Del Rio, throwing for 296 yards and three touchdowns. With their normally effective defense, Florida expects to win games when they put 28 points on the board.
Not on Saturday.
The win puts Tennessee in the driver’s seat in the weak SEC Eastern Division. They play at Georgia next week while the Gators (3-1) will play in the state of Tennessee for the second straight week when they go to Vanderbilt.