WHAT HAPPENED: Florida scored two touchdowns in the last 4:09 to come back from a 27-14 deficit and Tennessee kicker Aaron Medley just missed a 55-yard field goal as time expired to give Florida a 28-27 win over the Vols in front of 90,527 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday.
The devastating loss for the Vols extends Tennessee’s losing streak in the series to 11 games. The Vols fall to 2-2, 0-1 in the SEC. The Gators improve to 4-0, 2-0.
Florida scored first when running back Kelvin Taylor followed a 47-yard run with a 5-yard touchdown scamper. The Vols answered with 20 straight points to take control however.
The first score came on a gadget play. Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs threw a backward lateral to wide receiver Jauan Jennings, a high school quarterback, who threw the ball back to Dobbs, who streaked down the right sideline for a 58-yard catch-and-run.
Two possessions later, the Vols used a halfback jump pass from redshirt sophomore Alvin Kamara to tight end Ethan Wolf to convert on fourth-and-3 with a 24-yard pass. Sophomore tailback Jalen Hurd later scored on a 1-yard touchdown plunge to make it 14-7.
Medley then made field goals of 34 and 37 yards to put the Vols up 20-7 with 11:07 to go in the game.
Florida cut the deficit to 20-14 thanks to a turnover and a fourth yard conversion. Defensive end Bryan Cox sacked Dobbs and forced a fumble. He picked it up and ran to the end zone, but his knee was down when he made the recovery. Florida faced fourth-and-6 three plays later, but Florida quarterback Will Grier found wide receiver Brandon Powell on a crossing route that became a 21-yard reception. Taylor scored from the 4-yard line to make it 20-14.
After going three-and-out on its next possession, Tennessee made it a two-score game again with a 16-play 70-yard drive that ended on a 10-yard touchdown run by Hurd. The Vols opted to kick an extra point to go up 27-14 instead of going for two, however, a decision that would later be questioned.
Florida converted two fourth downs on its next possession, a 17-play, 86-yard drive that ended on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Grier to Powell.
Tennessee went three-and-out on its next possession. Florida got the ball with 2:18 to go and faced fourth-and-14 at its own 37 with 1:39 left, but Grier found freshman Antonio Callaway on a slant pass, which he turned into a 63-yard touchdown reception to make it 28-27.
Tennessee drove to the Florida 32, but had an illegal substitution penalty with three seconds left that moved the ball back to the 37. Medley’s kick missed just wide to the right.
WHO MADE IT HAPPEN: Grier was erratic at times, especially under pressure, but he finished with 23 completions on 42 attempts for 283 yards and two touchdowns against one interception.
Taylor rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Callaway caught five passes for 112 yards and the game-winning score. Powell had five receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown.
Dobbs led the Vols with 136 yards rushing. He completed 10 of 17 passes for 83 yards and had the 58-yard touchdown reception. Hurd rushed for 102 yards and two scores.
WHY DID IT HAPPEN: Jones certainly owns a good portion of this loss. He said he made the decision not to go for two based on a chart and his faith in the defense, but it’s hard to find a chart that would suggest kicking the extra point when up 12 with 10 minutes left in the fourth. He called a timeout when Florida appeared to be ready to kick an field goal, and the Gators ended up scoring a touchdown on the drive. He said he believed the Gators were going to fake the field goal, and he may have been right, but the worst case scenario still came to pass.
Also, the Vols last drive ended strangely, not only with the illegal substitution penalty, but an inexcusable amount of time coming off the clock before Tennessee spiked the ball.
The stat of the game was Florida’s success on fourth down compared to third down. The Gators converted on just three of 15 third downs in the game, but all five of its fourth downs. Four of those were part of touchdown drives.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN: This sets Tennessee’s rebuilding effort back substantially. Tangibly, it was a winnable game against an SEC East team, and it will most certainly come back to haunt them regardless of what direction their season takes from here.
The loss will also assuredly haunt Jones. The fanbase was already displeased because of the 17-point blown lead in the double-overtime loss to Oklahoma, and they have much more reason to question his decision-making now than they did after that game.
For the players themselves, this adds to the mental hurdle they have to clear to put away big games. After blowing a combined lead of 30 points to Oklahoma and Florida, it’s hard to imagine the horrors of these games won’t creep back into their minds every time they have a fourth-quarter lead the rest of this season. Each heartbreaking loss they suffer makes that hurdle increasingly difficult to clear.