The Florida Gators made an improbable second half comeback to take down Butch Jones and the Tennessee Volunteers by a score of 28-27.
The first half consisted of fairly ugly football. Neither team could really move the ball without generating some kind of big play. For the Gators, it was a 47-yard run by Kelvin Taylor en route to a five-yard Taylor touchdown plunge. For the Vols, the first was a 58-yard touchdown pass on a throwback play from Jauan Jennings to Joshua Dobbs. Later it was a 24-yard Alvin Kamara jump pass on 4th-and-2 to Ethan Wolf that Jalen Hurd later cashed in for a touchdown. Dobbs, who at times proved impossible to tackle, broke off a 62-yard run that turned into a field goal. Florida answered that with a Will Grier interception. Tennessee had control and would get the ball after intermission.
On the first drive of the third quarter up 17-7, Tennessee began with a 21-yard Hurd run. The Vols moved the ball fairly easily down to the Florida 27, but they stalled out there with a Dobbs run coming up two yards short of a first down on 3rd-and-9 from the 26. Aaron Medley knocked in the field goal to go up 20-7, but it felt like a real missed opportunity given how much Tennessee had been controlling the game.
Momentum swung on the next Tennessee drive after Dobbs lost a fumble. UT recovered well on the ensuing three plays, but Grier hit Powell for a 21-yard gain on 4th-and-6. It wouldn't be the last big fourth down conversion, and it set up a Taylor four-yard TD run on the next play.
Tennessee sustained a long drive in the late third quarter extending into the fourth, as a Hurd ten-yard touchdown run capped off a 16-play drive. Florida's defense looked out of gas, and given the offensive problems the Gators were having, the 27-14 lead felt close to insurmountable. I say "close to", because many observers online felt that Jones's decision to kick the extra point to go up 13 with 12 minutes to go rather than go for two and try to be up 14 was a mistake.
No one saw what would happen next coming. Florida's offense actually sustained a real drive without a big chunk play for the first time all game. Grier hit Demarcus Robinson for a couple of nice gains early, and Grier converted a pair of fourth downs—ten yards to Jake McGee with seven to go and 16 yards to Powell with eight to go—to keep the sticks moving. Two plays after the latter conversion, Grier found Powell for a five-yard touchdown.
Tennessee received the kickoff and started a drive with 4:09 to go, but it went super conservative with three runs that collectively went nowhere. Florida used a pair of timeouts to preserve clock, and UF took over after a punt with 2:18 on the clock and 59 yards to go to take the lead.
It looked like the Gators were just done. A screen to Taylor lost yardage. Robinson dropped the second down pass trying to make a move before securing the ball. A third down throw to Robinson also failed. It was fourth down again, but fourth down was Florida's good down on the night.
Grier found Antonio Callaway on an intermediate in route, and three Tennessee defenders swarmed to him. One took a bad angle and a block from Powell cleaned up the other two. It sprung Callaway down the sideline, and he used his speed to scamper into the end zone. Just like that, a 63-yard touchdown put Florida up 28-27.
It's a stunner for @GatorsFB! Florida pulls off a shocker in the @BestBuy highlight. http://t.co/hwLfhLUaSG— SEConCBS (@SEConCBS) September 26, 2015
The last time the Vols won the game, they made a field goal as time expired to win 30-28. A repeat of that score was on the table with Tennessee getting the ball back on its own 32 with 1:26 to go and two timeouts.
Dobbs completed a ten-yard pass to Cody Blanc, but a false start after that led Jones to burn his second timeout of the half to avoid a ten-second runoff. Dobbs then made up for the penalty with a 19-yard pass to Kamara. Dobbs would scramble up the sideline on the next play until he fumbled, but he fumbled forwards and it went out of bounds without anyone taking possession. The Vols got the ball back at the site of the fumble, but crucially, the clock kept moving. Dobbs hit Wolf near the sideline to pick up the first down on the next play, but the Vols were surprised by the fact that the clock started up again after the chains were set.
Here's where things really broke down. Tennessee appeared to want to substitute to set up a new play, but they didn't notice the moving clock until after the substitution was in progress. Dobbs spiked the ball with three seconds to go, but Tennessee still got an illegal substitution flag. The Vols' final timeout prevented a runoff from ending the game, but the extra yardage made a 50-yard field goal attempt a 55-yard one. The confusion also prevented the opportunity to run one more play to get a bit closer.
Medley missed the field goal badly, but Jim McElwain decided to ice the young kicker who'd never tried a kick from beyond 50 yards before [UPDATE: McElwain said after the game that UF had 12 on the field for that try, prompting the timeout]. On Medley's second try, he had the distance but barely missed wide right. It's unclear if you could've fit a sheet of paper between the ball and the goal post, it was that close. Florida escaped.
Jones will bear a lot of the blame for this one, as Tennessee fans are furious over the way the team lost—especially after losing a big second half lead along with the game to Oklahoma. In fact through the end of this game, only three times this year has a team lost after having a 13-point fourth quarter lead, and two of those times were Tennessee. Since 2008, the Vols are an intolerable 1-21 against Alabama, Florida, and Georgia.
The win is a massive one for McElwain. The Vols were supposed to be one of the true contenders for the East this year, and Florida beat them. He also extended the program's win streak over UT to 11 games, picking up a win over a rival when wins over the others (UGA and FSU) aren't looking assured.
Florida is a flawed and limited team that caught lightning in a bottle to win this game. It won't contend for the East and may not score an offensive point next week against Ole Miss. It's a team that doesn't give up, though, and it stayed with it in the fourth quarter despite essentially no evidence in the prior three that said they could sustain a pair of drives to win it. This was the kind of game that Will Muschamp's teams would lose, but McElwain found a way to win. It's a big confidence booster before hitting the rough October schedule.
For Tennessee, it's a crushing loss. Not only does it extend the losing streak to the Gators, but it could be the difference between going to Atlanta or not if they knock off Georgia later this year. It also adds more doubts onto Jones's shoulders, as he's delivered in recruiting but is earning a reputation for not being a good in-game coach. Tennessee's season isn't over now by a long shot, but it has a lot of work to do to keep up with UGA in the division.