- David Helman, Reporter, RecruitingNation
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Call it a happy case of déjà vu for No. 18 Florida. The Gators went into an electric atmosphere and fell behind to a motivated opponent for the second straight weekend. And for the second straight weekend, the Gators made some halftime adjustments and roared to a second-half win. With a surprising 555 yards of total offense, Florida's 37-20 victory over No. 23 Tennessee on Saturday night was a bit more explosive than the defensive slugfest against Texas A&M.
Here's how the Gators overcame their SEC East rival for the eighth consecutive season:
It was over when: Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel beat a blitz to hit wide receiver Frankie Hammond for a 75-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. The score gave the Gators 21 unanswered points in the second half and put them up 34-20 with just 10 minutes to play in the game.
Game ball goes to: Driskel continued his rapid maturation as the Gators' starting quarterback in front of a packed house at hostile Neyland Stadium. The sophomore connected on 14 of 20 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers against a hapless Tennessee secondary. He ran for 81 clutch rushing yards without taking a sack, and he found Hammond for the game-clinching points.
Key stat: Florida gashed its way to 336 rushing yards. The Gators' ground game absolutely eviscerated the Volunteers' defense -- especially as the game wore on in the second half. That must be gratifying to Florida coach Will Muschamp, who wanted his team to get tougher this season. Florida running back Mike Gillislee chalked up another nice effort with 18 carries for 115 yards. Wide receiver Trey Burton murdered the Vols from the Wildcat spot -- he carried just three times for 91 yards and two scores.
Key stat II: Florida turned 13 plays of 20 yards or more. The Gators' offense looked stagnant throughout last week's victory against Texas A&M, and it seemed like it might stumble through another mediocre offensive performance. But with eight of those 13 explosive plays coming in the final two quarters, the Gators' playmakers spent much of the second half racing up and down the field.
What it means: The Gators are undefeated, with two wins in conference already. The schedule isn't going to let up, but Florida might have more of a say in the SEC East race than many people thought in the preseason -- especially if Driskel continues to improve.
As late as the midway point of the second quarter, it looked like Tennessee was on its way to a statement win against one of its biggest rivals. But the manner of the Volunteers' late-game collapse -- outscored 27-6 in the second half -- kills even the moral victories from Saturday night, such as the impressive passing game or the 14-10 halftime lead. Tennessee coach Derek Dooley and Co. had a chance to make a statement and came up quite short.
Call it a happy case of déjà vu for No. 18 Florida. The Gators went into an electric atmosphere and fell behind to a motivated opponent for the second straight weekend.