KNOXVILLE — Students of this rivalry will recall the 1995 Florida-Tennessee game, when Danny Wuerffel’s Gators trailed Peyton Manning’s Volunteers 30-14 and scored 48 consecutive points. This was only 38, but it felt like more. It felt as if Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs wasn’t just throwing touchdown passes — four in barely 10 minutes — but tossing aside a decade’s worth of bad karma.
Just when we all had the Vols pegged as a Big Orange fraud, they laid waste to a good defense and showed us something we hadn’t seen from them under Butch Jones, or Derrick Dooley, or Lane Kiffin, or even during the final days of Phillip Fulmer. This was the team on which the football world had been waiting, fast and strong and daring. Which kind of made you wonder: How did such an aggregation fall 21 points behind a visitor playing with its backup quarterback?
“That wasn’t us,” Jones said of the first half, but it kind of was. Tennessee trailed Appalachian State and needed overtime to win its opener. It trailed Virginia Tech 14-0 the next week. It couldn’t shake Ohio last Saturday. The way the Vols started here seemed every bit in keeping with their profile under Jones — look really good on paper, less good on the field.
Full credit to the Vols for seizing a game going wrong and winning 38-28. (And Florida scored last.) If that Tennessee shows up at Sanford Stadium next week, it will win. If its first-half self is what travels to Athens, Georgia will win.
I know that sounds like double-talk, but if this game showed us anything, it’s that Tennessee is essentially two teams. One is excellent. The other is not. At their best, the Vols have a gear Georgia doesn’t possess; at their worst, they’re pretty close to awful.
Further reading: From flop to Rocky Top: Tennessee’s wild win.