University of Florida

Florida gives up three-touchdown lead in 38-28 loss to Tennessee

Florida head coach Jim McElwain, second from the left, looks on during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Knoxville, Tenn.
Florida head coach Jim McElwain, second from the left, looks on during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Knoxville, Tenn. AP

Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs heaved the ball down the right sideline early in the fourth quarter, where Jauan Jennings had no one around him.

Jennings bobbled the ball and fought to stay inbounds before racing to the end zone for a 67-yard touchdown.

UF cornerback Jalen Tabor slipped on his coverage on that play. The Gators’ lead faded away with it.

Florida wouldn’t get it back, as the No. 14 Volunteers overcame a 21-0 deficit to defeat the 19th-ranked Gators 38-28 in Neyland Stadium and snap an 11-game losing streak in the series.

After mustering just 111 passing yards and throwing two interceptions in the first 32 minutes of the game, Dobbs finished the game with 319 passing yards and threw four touchdowns on five of Tennessee’s drives following his second interception, bringing the Neyland Stadium crowd of 102,455 into a deafening raucous.

The senior dual-threat quarterback also tallied 80 rushing yards and capped Tennessee’s scoring with a 5-yard rushing touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, single-handedly torching Florida’s defense that entered Saturday’s game as the top-ranked defense in average yards allowed (129.7) and average points allowed (4.7).

UF backup quarterback Austin Appleby, starting in place of the injured Luke Del Rio, had his moments in the game but couldn’t extend the Gators’ win streak over the Volunteers to 12 games after Florida’s offense went cold and the defense fell apart in the second half. He finished the game with 291 yards on 22-of-35 passing and three touchdowns with one interception.

The Purdue transfer excelled early, throwing for 213 yards and two touchdowns on 10-of-16 passing in the first half, with three big plays on three drives aiding Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) to three touchdowns and an early 21-0 lead.

UF marched down the field on back-to-back drives in the second quarter, 16 plays and 173 yards in total, to get its final two touchdowns before the collapse — a 15-yard screen pass from Appleby to running back Jordan Cronkrite and a 1-yard rush up the middle by Jordan Scarlett.

Defensively, the Gators shut Tennessee down early, limiting the Volunteers to just a field goal in the first half. Cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson looked to have been able to back up their trash talk — Tabor’s on social media in the preseason, Wilson’s with his “Ducks don’t pull trucks” metaphor earlier this week — by recording both of the Gators’ interceptions.

But after taking a 21-3 lead into halftime and outgaining Tennessee 300-162, UF’s offense totaled 97 yards and the defense gave up 325 yards. Florida’s first six drives ended with either a three-and-out,or a turnover before Appleby led the Gators on a 16-play, 86-yard drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Freddie Swain.

One play after Tennessee’s offense took over in the red zone for the final time with about two minutes to play, the Volunteers offense took a knee on second down.

The Volunteers already had a 10-point lead, had the win in the bag and had broken the streak.

They let the fans savor the moment.

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