Despite trailing early in the fourth quarter on the road at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee, the Florida Gators (3-1, 2-1 SEC) rallied behind a quarterback change and scored 10 unanswered points to pull off a 10-9 victory against the rival Tennessee Volunteers (2-3, 0-2 SEC).
Florida has now won 10-straight games against Tennessee dating back to 2005 with Saturday’s 10-9 win tying the 2006 game (21-20) for the closest victory in that span.
The Volunteers led 3-0 at the end of the first half, shutting out the Gators in that period for the first time since 1955, but were unable to score in the last quarter of the game as Florida made a key substitution.
With redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel struggling (11-for-23, 59 yards, three interceptions), freshman Treon Harris entered in the fourth quarter and led the Gators to a pair of scoring drives. Though Harris completed just 2-of-4 passes for 17 yards and carried four times for 24 yards, the team’s change in energy was palpable with him in the game.
Florida also benefited from a tremendous rushing effort from junior running back Matt Jones (27 touches for 133 total yards, touchdown) as well as a stout defensive effort including six sacks, 10 tackles for loss, two interceptions (one to seal the game) and a forced fumble.
A low-scoring first half saw its only points following a Florida turnover. Driskel threw on-target to sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson, who tipped the ball up in the air only for Tennessee to come down with it. The Vols responded with a nine-play, 36-yard drive and went up 3-0 after a 36-yard field goal.
The Gators had an opportunity at the end of the half – with two minutes and two timeouts – but allowed the clock to run out as they settled for taking the ball coming out of the break. Unfortunately for Florida, Driskel’s second interception – a bad throw over the middle – gave Tennessee another scoring opportunity.
Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III atoned for his teammate’s mistake by picking off a pass from UT QB Justin Worley in the end zone, giving UF the ball back.
Florida was not able to take advantage of the fortunate play, however, as Driskel threw a third pick – this time a well-thrown ball deflected by senior tight end Tevin WestbrookJalen Tabor blitzed off the edge and stripped the ball from Worley. Redshirt sophomore defensive end Bryan Cox Jr, who registered a significant third-down sack on the previous series, recovered the ball to give UF possession at UT’s 30-yard line.
Harris replaced Driskel and immediately converted a first down, passing out to Jones for a 15-yard gain. Harris then took off on a quarterback keeper for 10 yards before Jones rumbled into the end zone from two yards out for a touchdown and Florida’s first score of the afternoon.
A third sack of the game by Cox forced a Vols punt, giving the Gators another possession and an opportunity to take the lead for the first time.
Florida took over at its own 24-yard line but engineered an eight-play, 49-yard drive – including a first-down toss from Harris and 32-yard run by Jones – to set itself up for a long field goal. Redshirt sophomore Austin Hardin stepped in to drain a career-long 49-yard kick to give his team a 10-9 lead over Tennessee with 6:20 left in the contest.
A sixth sack returned the ball to the Gators at their own 48, but Florida was unable to capitalize and instead punted back to Tennessee; a shank from senior Kyle Christy resulted in UT taking over at its own 22-yard line.
Two 15-yard conversions on the final drive from Worley to Austin “Pig” Howard – including one on fourth down out to midfield – kept the Volunteers alive, but a game-sealing diving interception by Gators sophomore safety Keanu Neal saved the day for Florida with 51 seconds remaining.