It took an unlikely combination, but Florida backup quarterback Treon Harris and kicker Austin Hardin’s 49-yard field goal helped the Florida football team rally for a 10-9 victory over Tennessee in Knoxville on Saturday. The win improved Florida’s win streak over Tennessee to 10 games.
The Florida defense kept the Gators in the game the whole way, forcing three big turnovers while not allowing the Vols to score a touchdown. UF held the Vols to only 28 yards on the ground and were able to sack UT quarterback Justin Worley six times. Worley was 26 of 39 for 205 yards, but he was responsible for all three turnovers – two interceptions and a fumble.
The Gator offense was nonexistent while quarterback Jeff Driskel was in the game. Driskel was 11 of 23 for 59 yards with three interceptions, before being pulled late in the third quarter for Harris.
The Gators were shutout by Tennessee in the first half 3-0. It was the first time since 1955 that Florida had been shutout by the Vols at the half.
Things appeared to get worse on the opening drive of the second half for the Gators. On the first play, Driskel’s pass was picked off over the middle by Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who took it to the Gators’ 13-yard line. It looked as though Tennessee was about to go up 10-0 after they had the ball at the Florida 13-yard line, but Vols’ quarterback Justin Worley lofted a ball into the end zone that was picked off by Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.
“Well the receiver’s split was cut, he was almost inside the hash. So I figured he was going back that way,” Hargreaves said on his interception. “And once I saw the roll out, I just kind of ran for it and he [Justin Worley] threw it to me.”
That was just one of the game saving plays made by the Gator defense.
After both teams exchanged three-and-outs, the Gators were pinned inside their 20-yard line again. Then another costly turnover came as Driskel’s pass was tipped by Florida tight end Tevin Westbrook, which ended up in the hands of Vols’ defensive back Todd Kelly Jr., who returned it to the Florida 17. That set up Volunteers kicker Aaron Medley for a 38-yard field goal to make it 6-0 with 9:24 left in the third quarter.
Later in the third quarter, Tennessee drove down the field in seven plays for 48 yards to once again set up Medley for a field goal, this time a 39-yarder to make it 9-0 Vols.
That would be the last points Tennessee would score in the game.
After the Gator offense went three-and-out on the next series, Volunteers quarterback Justin Worley was blind-sided by Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor who knocked the ball out of Worley’s hands and recovered it at the Tennessee 30. That game-changing play gave the Gators good field position, which prompted coach Will Muschamp to make a change at the quarterback position with his team trailing by nine late in the third.
That change brought in backup freshman quarterback Treon Harris.
Muschamp explained his reasoning behind bringing in the youngster in such a hostile environment.
“We needed a change of pace to bring a little emotion to our team. Treon’s got a calmness factor. I wanted to get Jeff out a series and let him sit. Then Treon comes in and takes us down and scores. You go with the hot hand and he had the hot hand at the time.”
Harris sparked the offense as soon as he came in. He and Matt Jones led the Gators into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game for either team. The two yard score from Jones tightened the Tennessee lead to 9-7 with 13:40 left in the fourth quarter.
Then on the Vols ensuing possession, the Gator defense forced a crucial stop to give the ball back to the offense with 10 minutes to go in the game. On the ensuing drive, Florida got a huge 32-yard run from Matt Jones, who finished with 114 rushing yards. Three plays later, the Gators were faced with a fourth-and-three from the Tennessee 32-yard line. Muschamp decided to let kicker Austin Hardin attempt a career long 49-yard field goal to try and give Florida its first lead of the game.
He nailed it.
“I definitely had confidence knowing I had the leg,” Hardin said. “The wind was swirling around, but I figured if I just hit it down the middle with enough leg it would cut through the wind. It cut through and I hit it great and it went right down the pipe.”
That gave Florida a 10-9 lead with 6:20 to go in the fourth quarter.
After both teams exchanged punts, the Vols had the ball at their own 22-yard line for their final drive of the game. Once again, the Gator defense stepped up big. On the next play after Worley converted a fourth and 10 pass to Pig Howard, he threw an interception that was hauled in by safety Keanu Neal at the Florida 23 with 51 seconds left.
“We always talk about coming together and playing together as a unit and we came together today,” Neal said. “We’re definitely going to get better and that’s the only thing we’re going to do.”
Neal’s interception sealed the come-from-behind victory for the Gators and in the process emptied the 102,455 Tennessee fans in attendance at Neyland Stadium.
Now the Gators will come home to The Swamp after two road games, as they welcome the LSU Tigers to Gainesville next Saturday.
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