GatorZone.com Senior Writer
The touchdown pass went for 75 yards. It sent streams of orange-clad Tennessee fans heading for the exits at Neyland Stadium late Saturday night.
This was the year their Vols were supposed to snap Florida's grip on this once back-and-forth SEC East rivalry. The reason so many thought this was Tennessee's year: a high-powered Vols offense led by quarterback Tyler Bray.
Bray had Tennessee in front at halftime, but for the second consecutive week, the Gators finished strong. Did they ever.
They did it with a stifling defense at Texas A&M. On Saturday the defense cooled off Bray in the second half and the offense heated up in a way Florida fans love to see.
Big plays everywhere in Florida's 37-20 win over the Vols, their eighth consecutive win in the series and fourth in a row here on the banks of the Tennessee River, something the Gators had never done.
Trailing 14-10 at halftime with Bray passing for 153 yards and two touchdowns, the Gators regrouped and started to land one punch after another.
The win gave the Gators back-to-back road wins to open SEC play for the first time since 1985 when they won at Mississippi State and LSU.
"In the second half we realized we were battling, but we weren't battling hard enough,'' center Jon Harrison said. "We just had to dig that much deeper. We came out in the second half with that mentality, 'it's 0-0 and it's a street fight out there and we aren't going home with anything but the W.' "
The Gators answered the bell and more.
They boarded their bus outside Neyland Stadium and headed to the airport and back to Gainesville with a 3-0 record. The Gators also packed their first win against a ranked team under head coach Will Muschamp.
They did it with 555 yards of total offense, 336 yards rushing and a defense that held Bray in check for the most part. Florida limited Tennessee to 120 yards in the second half and outgained the Vols 152 to 5 in the fourth quarter.
Florida started 3-0 a year ago but finished 7-6. Muschamp has a different feeling about this 3-0 team.
"We’re a much better team than we were last year,'' he said. "Does it mean anything? No. Just means we’re 3-0 and the best thing about being 3-0 is you have a chance to be 4-0."
The Gators were 4-0 a year ago, too, and then saw their season take a downward turn with four consecutive losses in October. These Gators may have turned a corner.
Sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel made plays Saturday with his arm and legs. Trey Burton proved to be an X-factor with a pair of touchdown runs of 14 and 80 yards Jordan Reed had the go-ahead touchdown catch and Mike Gillislee powered his way to 115 yards.
"We kind of found what we could do on them and the guys started executing,'' offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "Then we got them off balance a little bit, and hey, the kids make plays. Trey made a huge play, Jeff made some throws, and Jordan made some catches, the line kind of got a beat on them. The kids did an awesome job just executing what we had in the plan."
The defense did its job, too, coming up with two interceptions and turning up the pressure on Bray in the second half.
Senior linebacker Jon Bostic finished his career 4-0 against Tennessee. He didn't expect that when he signed with the Gators but walked off the field pleased with the way it happened.
Florida has outscored opponents 50-13 in the second half and 27-0 in the fourth quarter.
"We are still growing. We are going to fight 60 minutes. Just because of what happens n the first half, that's not going to affect us in the second half,'' Bostic said. "That's one of the first things we said when we came into the locker room. It's a 60-minute game. We've got to find ways to affect Tyler Bray and we did in the second half."
The Gators sacked Bray twice and prevented the kind of back-breaking long downfield passes Bray threw in Tennessee's first two games when the Vols racked up more than 500 yards in back-to-back games for the first time in 12 years.
In the end, they finished. Finished with a bang. Hammond's touchdown finished off the Vols' hopes and sent their fans home.
"That's something that Coach Muschamp always talks about,'' linebacker Lerentee McCray said. "He always talks about emptying the stands. Once we empty the stands, then we've got our opponent where we want them."