Every curse plaguing Tennessee football was undone in one memorable second half. The Volunteers had a legendary performance in their win over the Gators.
Tennessee fans could not have scripted this any better. This is the Red Sox coming back from three games down to beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.
It’s Peyton Manning leading a comeback to beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship after being down 21-3.
Now, the Vols have their own comeback of sorts.
In the first half, everything that has ever gone wrong for Tennessee over the past decade happened. The Checker Neyland, College GameDay, and Smokey Gray curses were still alive.
And everything that Florida has done to frustrate the Vols took place in the first half. Failing to cash in on red zone opportunities?
Check. Tennessee got inside the red zone three times and came away with three points.
Falling completely behind in coaching?
Check. Jim McElwain caught Bob Shoop with multiple screen passes for touchdowns while the defense stayed ahead of Mike DeBord.
Finally, a backup quarterback for the Gators having the game of his life against Tennessee?
Well, that just tells the story of the Tennessee-Florida series dating back to 2005. Austin Appleby had 213 yards passing and two touchdowns in the first half. He was set to be a fourth quarterback in five years to have his breakout game against Tennessee.
So when the Vols went into halftime down 21-3, it made perfect sense to quit on them.
And any thoughts of them being a second half team went out the window with Joshua Dobbs’s interception early.
But then, everything Vols fans ever complained about turned on its head.
For the first time in many Tennessee fans’ memories, their defense made major halftime adjustments. And after allowing 21 points in the first half, they did not allow a Florida first down on seven of eight drives, only allowing it when they were playing prevent defense after going up 38-21.
The story became about a Tennessee quarterback instead of a Florida quarterback, as Dobbs went on a tear with four passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in the second half.
And of course, the continuous mistakes the Vols made in the first half turned into execution in the second half. The psychological edge, somehow, fell into Tennessee’s favor than Florida’s favor. And they had complete control of the game.
For anybody doubting Butch Jones, this was the telling game. Jones knew how to keep his team focused, and he has kept them mentally tough. Other teams would have quit after being down 21-3.
But this team didn’t let it phase them at all.
For the third time in four games, they have embraced the adversity after being down by two scores. This has been a different Tennessee football team ever since the Arkansas Razorbacks game last year, but it has taken a huge step forward this year.
Jones always said that losing is a habit. Winning is also a habit. And he now has the Vols in the habit of winning, expecting to win when things go against them.
That’s a huge deal going forward.