There’s nothing quite like waking up on a Saturday when your team is playing a rival. This Saturday, I woke up in a cold hotel room with three of my friends that also attend the University of Florida. We were all very talkative for 8 o’clock in the morning. As the Tennessee sun made its way through our hotel window, we all got our blue on (no orange allowed when Florida plays Tennessee) and headed to the spot where we would attempt to throw together an away game tailgate. If you’re not familiar with the area, like we were not, can be hard.
Fortunately, we found a nice spot to throw up our tents and tables and start the day’s festivities. The Tennessee fans around us were nice for the most part, don’t get me wrong, we encountered some folks that were not friendly, but the fans around us at the tailgate spot were weirdly nice. It was almost like the fans were attempting to use reverse psychology on us because they were not as friendly after the game, imagine that! We stood around and listened to music while sipping on beer and chatting about the game. All of us were nervous but there was a level of confidence we carried around for some reason. Maybe it was because the Florida Gators had seemed confident all week and it rubbed off on us? Or maybe it was because we hadn’t seen Florida lose to Tennessee since we were in the 4th grade. Little did we know that was all about to change. The myth that Tennessee couldn’t beat the Gators was soon to be broken and oh boy was it in the worst fashion imaginable. The walk to the stadium is an important piece to this week’s story, because while I tend to stray away from everything Tennessee, their pregame festivities are some of the best in the country. So I enjoyed the long walk from the tailgate site to the game along the beautiful Tennessee River. What a sight! Tons of boats filled with Vol’s fans partying before one of their biggest games to date; a party that would go into the night.
Let me start by saying this game was unbelievably hot. I’ve been to a lot of Florida games where I thought I was hot, but this game seemed to be played on the equator.
The game started and my, oh my, it was electric in that stadium. That electricity quickly turned into panic for the Volunteers as the Gators jumped out front quickly 21-0. I’d also like to take this time to say that Austin Appleby exceeded my expectations with his play. He managed the game well and didn’t make any bad decisions. Yeah, I know, he threw an interception in the 3rd quarter, but let’s be honest, we knew at least one was coming, and for his play in the first half, I’m almost willing to forget about the interception. The ball he hurled to Callaway on the sideline for a huge gain in the first quarter was the best ball thrown by a Gator quarterback this season. Everything appeared to be just fine in the first half. The Gator defense was living up to expectations and the offensive game plan was effective. It seemed like the 12th win in a row was surely on the way, but did you guys know that there are two halves in a football game? Apparently the Gators forgot about that little detail. I am guilty too. I was already planning my victory Tweets because yes I’m that guy, but I ate those tweets quickly. I don’t know what happened to the Gators. The offensive line was getting thrown around in the second half and the defense played laxidasical. Two things that cannot happen if you are playing a team that absolutely has to win, and that was Tennessee. It reminded me of when I play golf. I play a good round of golf on the front nine, get a little comfortable in my game, and then realize that there are nine holes left. For the people that don’t believe in momentum, you’ve never been an opposing fan at an away game. My goodness, that momentum shifted faster than any that I’ve ever experienced. You could just feel it when the fourth quarter started. It was Tennessee’s day. For me, the turning point was the first sequence right after halftime. The Gators were up 21-3 and Tennessee was pressing trying desperately to not drop yet another game to their arch rivals. Then Teez Tabor camped under a wobbly pass from Josh Dobbs for an opening series interception. Instead of stepping on the Vol’s throat, the Gators ran the ball three straight times and punted. This is where the momentum shifted in the Vol’s favor and before you knew it, Tennessee had somehow, some way, come all the way back and taken the lead. The streak was over and it didn’t feel real. It seemed like a bad dream.
I can’t lie, this one stung. I didn’t take the loss well. I lost sleep after the game and I’m not sure when I’ll get this bad taste out of my mouth. I realize that the season isn’t over, but it is so hard to cope with this loss. The Gators must find a way to bounce back next week against Vanderbilt. They still have everything to play for and I’m sure that Jim McElwain and company will make that clear in preparation for next week’s matchup. I find myself constantly shaking my head in disbelief. I still can’t believe it, y’all. The Gator Nation has to shake it off and get through this together, it’s a long season and there is still so much to play for.