Florida trailed Tennessee, 14-10, at halftime. And then the second half happened, and the Gators dropped an avalanche on Rocky Top, and Florida left Neyland Stadium half-empty and fully speechless with a 37-20 victory.
Florida's second half was all about the big play: Trey Burton sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown, Mike Gillislee ran for 45 yards to set up one fantastic Jeff Driskel touchdown throw to Jordan Reed, and Driskel hooked up with Frankie Hammond Jr. for another catch-and-run touchdown. Those three scores rallied the Gators from a 20-13 hole to a 34-20 lead in just 8:20 of game clock in the second half, and took Florida fans from sitting on their hands to clapping so hard it stung.
Driskel, especially, was a revelation, completing 14 of 20 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns and running for 81 more yards, but the Gators executed all over on offense. Gillislee topped 100 yards for the second time in 2012, tallying 115 yards on the ground, and Burton had three carries for 91 yards in by far his finest performance, context considered, as a Gator. The defense that is supposedly the strength of this Florida team bent in the first half and broke the Vols in the second, but it barely mattered: For all the talk of the pyrotechnic Tennessee offense triggered by Tyler Bray, the Vols misfired repeatedly, and failed to keep up as the Gators turned an SEC slugfest into a track meet in the second half.
Florida has outscored its opponents 50-13 in the second half in 2012, and 27-0 in the fourth quarter, testament to the conditioning that Will Muschamp hire Jeff Dillman has done and the adjustments that Muschamp, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, and offensive coordinator Brent Pease have made to close wounds and open holes. And a much-maligned coaching staff that took a beating early in its time in Gainesville and early in this game seems vindicated, as do players like Burton and Driskel, who have turned it on in 2012 to sway undecided fans.
The Gators now head back to Gainesville for their SEC home opener against Kentucky, a game in which Florida will be heavily favored to continue a decades-long winning streak. Avoiding overlooking the Wildcats may be the Gators' toughest test this week: UK has struggled in 2012, while a possible showdown with undefeated LSU looms as Florida's October opener.
Tonight, with their first win over a top-25 team in their last 10 tries, the Gators may have served notice that clashes like that might actually go their way.