Trailing by five with 17 seconds to play Saturday at Neyland Stadium, Florida kicker Adam Mihalek lined up an onside kick. The ball took a high bounce as Florida linebacker Diwun Black leaped across the 45-yard line and snatched the ball in mid air.
The Gators advanced the ball across midfield, but quarterback Anthony Richardson threw an interception — his only pick of the day — as the clock expired to seal Tennessee’s 38-33 victory.
No. 20 Florida dropped to 2-2 overall and 0-2 in conference play — tied for last place in the SEC East. The No. 11 Vols improve to 4-0 overall and 1-0 in conference play — tied for the SEC-East lead with No. 1 Georgia and No. 8 Kentucky.
The Gators received the ball first and Richardson led a 64-yard drive that resulted in a fourth-down stop by the Volunteer defense at their own 20-yard line. Florida head coach Billy Napier rolled the dice on fourth down six times throughout the game and the Gators converted all five other attempts.
Florida quickly regained possession after linebacker Ventrell Miller punched the ball loose and safety Tre’Vez Johnson recovered the fumble.
After the game, Napier said he “couldn’t be more proud” of Miller. “[Miller’s] one of the best I’ve ever been around when it comes to just his ability to influence other people in a positive way,” Napier said.
After starting the season 3-3 including a 50-yard field goal against Kentucky, Mihalek missed wide of the left upright from just beyond the 40-yard line to keep the game scoreless.
With just over a minute remaining in the first quarter, the Vols opened up the scoring with a 32-yard field goal. The Gators answered with an eight-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a 44-yard touchdown pass — Richardson’s first this season — to tight end Keon Zipperer.
But on the first play of the next drive, Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker found a wide-open receiver for a 70-yard completion that led to a Hooker touchdown run.
The Gators fought back with another touchdown as Richardson barged his way into the end zone from seven yards out.
But the Volunteers took a 17-14 lead into halftime after Hooker led a 12-play, 99-yard drive.
The second half began with alternating touchdown drives as neither defense could force a stop. Richardson ran in another touchdown — his team-leading fifth this year — before the Gainesville native fumbled in the red zone on the following drive.
Florida’s defense failed to force a punt all day and quickly allowed another touchdown as Tennessee took a 38-21 advantage — its largest lead of the game.
With under eight minutes to go, Florida entered desperation mode. The Gators quickly drove down the field before running back Montrell Johnson Jr. scored a five-yard touchdown.
Despite an extra point making it a 10-point game, Napier chose to keep the offense on the field for a two-point conversion. The Gators failed, and Napier’s questionable decision proved to be costly after Richardson delivered another touchdown pass with under a minute left to make it a one-possession game. If Florida opted to kick both extra points — assuming both were successful — it would have only needed a field goal to force overtime after Black eventually recovered the onside kick.
Back to the Swamp
The Gators will return to Gainesville to prepare for a three-game home stand ahead of their bye week. They’ll welcome Eastern Washington at noon on Oct. 1 before Missouri and LSU enter the swamp. With six conference battles and two non-conference games left on their schedule, the Gators will leave the Sunshine State only twice more this season for road contests against No. 23 Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
“When we evaluate the tape, there’s going to be things that we can do better…that’s exactly where we’re at as a football team” Napier said. “I’m confident in this group and their attitude toward the work, and I know they’ll respond in the right way.”