KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It appears that ducks are stronger than the Gators thought.
Days after Florida players metaphorically compared the Vols to ducks incapable of pulling Gator-made trucks, Tennessee erased what seemed like an insurmountable 21-point, second-quarter deficit. With how allergic Tennessee was to Florida’s end zone (three trips to the red zone for three points) in the first half, a shocking 21-point lead seemed like all the Gators would need to extend their winning streak over the Vols to 12 games.
Then came a third quarter of jubilation for Tennessee and nightmarish agony for a Florida team that forgot how to be creative on offense and fell asleep on defense. After losing the yardage battle 300 to 162 in the first half, the Vols’ offense found a pulse under much-maligned quarterback Joshua Dobbs, and the Gators went uber-conservative and sloppy. That led to 14 Tennessee points and 154 yards in the third quarter to Florida’s paltry 8 yards and zero first downs.
The start of the fourth quarter was even worse for the Gators, as Dobbs orchestrated back-to-back touchdown drives on just seven plays. From the start of the third quarter to the moment Dobbs’ beautiful slant over the middle to a wide-open Josh Malone for 42 yards made it 31-21 late in the fourth, Dobbs was 7-of-9 for 220 yards, with four touchdowns and an interception on throws of 10-plus yards downfield. After passing for 200 yards just once this season, Dobbs sliced and diced his way to 319 passing yards.
The team that made collapsing a tradition in 2015 slammed its creamsicle-colored webbed feet on the Gators in the final two quarters for a 38-28 win. Tennessee went from teetering on the edge of embarrassing for Butch Jones to the biggest win of his coaching career thanks to 38 straight points.
This is what the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC East back in July should look like. This is what a tough team looks like. This is the Dobbs that Dobbs said he could be.
This is what Jones has been building to … brick by brick.
So after all hope was lost and fans were ready to throw Jones and his coaching staff into the neighboring Tennessee River, Jones won the game that he lost too many times before. Last year, he was in Florida’s position, losing three games after having double-digit leads, including leading Florida by 13 with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. According to ESPN Stats Information, last year Tennessee lost two games in which its win probability reached at least 90 percent. Saturday, Florida pulled a 2015 Tennessee by falling apart like a soup sandwich in the second half, registering just 102 yards and five first downs in the last two quarters.
Tennessee came out clawing at Florida’s defense, wearing it down and keeping defenders on their heels. Defensively, the Vols dominated up front, turning what was supposed to be an improved Gators line into mush.
Heading into next week’s game against Georgia in Athens, Tennessee has cemented itself as the true favorite in the SEC East. This is the best position Jones has ever been in during his four seasons in Knoxville. The Vols aren’t perfect, but after dominating the hated Gators in a monumental second half, all is right on Rocky Top.
Quack, quack, quack.