At halftime on Saturday, the giant, 11-year-old gator residing on Tennessee’s back was settling in for yet another year of getting even fatter and happier.
The scoreboard at Neyland Stadium told the awful truth for the home team: Florida 21, Tennessee 3.
It appeared as though the Gators were well on their way to making it 12 straight victories over the Vols. And then the orange light came on.
Tennessee absolutely owned the second half to come away with a 38-28 win and solidify the preseason hype that pegged the Vols as this year’s SEC East champions. Senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs accounted for all five second-half touchdowns for the Vols.
The Florida losing streak dated back to 2004, when legendary head coach and former Vols guard Phillip Fulmer was still at the helm. We caught up with Fulmer to get his thoughts on the game and the Vols season as a whole.
FM: As a player and a coach, you were part of some really big wins at Tennessee. How big is a comeback win like this one for a team with such high expectations?
PF: Well, it’s a huge win for Tennessee. One, because it puts you up in the SEC East. With Georgia losing, it actually puts you two games up in the East. Then you play Georgia and the other folks you have to play. You’re going into each ballgame with not as much pressure, so that was huge. And to end an 11-game losing streak was absolutely like a weight off the entire state. It’s one of those things where a lot of spooky things happened. We probably should have won the last couple — at least — and some others I was involved in, too, that were winnable. It was great from that standpoint. For the Tennessee people, it was a great day.
FM: Joshua Dobbs has done some tremendous things as quarterback of the Vols. Where do you think this ranks among his best performances?
PF: I think it’s his overall best performance. Maybe not so much in the first half, although some of the throws were dropped. He made a couple of throws that weren’t perfect at all. But in the second half, you’d be hard-pressed to find a quarterback in the last 10 years that had a better half of football here. Not just running and throwing, but managing the game, managing the clock and the line of scrimmage, making the adjustments he needed to make to get us in and out of plays. It was a fantastic effort. Smart guy, and this is a signature win for him.
FM: Did you enjoy being on the College GameDay set with Coach Steve Spurrier — even though he narrowly edged you out in the picks?
PF: Well, I got the pick that counted. I did enjoy it. We’ve got a chance to do a couple of different things together. Everybody remembers the great rivalry we had. We’re pretty good friends, and I always enjoy seeing him and his wife, Jerri.