It’s been 11 years since Tennessee has beaten Florida in football, and for two quarters Saturday, it looked like that number would stretch to 12.
Tennessee wasn’t just bad to start the game against the Gators on Saturday afternoon at Neyland Stadium, they were flat-out embarrassing. They dropped passes. They couldn’t get a single point when gifted the ball inside the five-yard line. They missed tackles. And it led to Florida taking a 21-3 lead at halftime, while starting a back-up quarterback who couldn’t even get on the field at Purdue.
For Tennessee, it was the most predictable outcome imaginable and had to leave the entire fan-base wondering: If we can’t beat the Gators this year, when will we?
Well, it’s a question they’ll never have to worry about again. Because after trailing 21-3 at the break, Tennessee made a shocking, stunning comeback that no one could have seen coming. Tennessee won 38-28 in a game that not only saved their season and took the heat off Butch Jones, but felt like so much more.
Tenneessee’s Evan Berry after a fumble recovery.
This was a win Tennessee fans have been waiting over a decade for, the one that proves that maybe they are “back.” At the very least, it gives Tennessee something to play for over the second half of the season for the first time in a long time.
It’s not just that Tennessee has been bad through the years, but more so that the Vols would lose games in the most catastrophic ways possible. There was a blocked field goal at the end of regulation against Alabama in 2009. The “13 men on the field” play that cost them a win at LSU a year later. Heck, there was the disastrous meltdown against these same Florida Gators just last year. Over the last decade and change, no one has had defeat snatched from the jaws of victory quite like this team has had.
The Vols were booed heading into the locker room at halftime Saturday. Tennessee fans had seen this script before. They were ready to revolt.
That’s what makes this win so special. It wasn’t just that Tennessee starting making plays, it was that they stopped doing everything they’ve done non-stop for the last 11 years. There were no dumb penalties or miscues that cost the Vols at the worst possible time. There were no egregious coaching errors like in years past. They finally got a break on a tipped touchdown catch that gave them the lead.
John Raoux / AP
The victory wasn’t about halftime adjustments or scheme changes, but a group of guys who refused to let what has happened in recent history define what this version of the Vols would be.
With the win over Florida in the books and that 11-year losing streak snapped, there’s no reason not to think big.
The Vols should absolutely be the favorite going forward in the SEC East, and it feels like a win next week against Georgia would unofficially clinch the division title (considering they would have head-to-head wins over the Bulldogs and Florida). Other than Alabama, who on their schedule seems unbeatable? No one. A run to the SEC title game — and, maybe with some luck, the College Football Playoff — is in play.
Wade Payne / AP
For now, though, Tennessee has a win over Florida, a victory that reinvigorated their season and gave them so much more to play for the rest of the way.
After years of asking “Is Tennessee back?” it seems like the answer is finally yes.