In 1992, when the Southeastern Conference (SEC) expanded to twelve universities and split into two divisions, Florida and Tennessee were both placed in the SEC’s Eastern Division, and have met annually on the football field since then. The rivalry quickly blossomed in intensity and importance, as both squads were perennial SEC and national championship contenders throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
Florida and Tennessee’s football teams first met in 1916, when both schools were members of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. They each joined the Southern Conference in the 1920s, and were founding members of the Southeastern Conference in 1932. Despite these common affiliations, a true rivalry did not develop between the programs for a long time because they played so sparingly.
Florida and Tennessee met infrequently for over half a century, often going many years without meeting on the gridiron. From 1916 to 1969, they played on a total of 13 occasions. The SEC became a 10-member league in the late-1960s, and a new scheduling formula had the teams play slightly more often, meeting seven times over the next 21 seasons. The SEC became a 12-member league in 1992 and split into two divisions. Both Florida and Tennessee were placed in the SEC’s Eastern Division, and they have met annually ever since.
Florida and Tennessee met on the third Saturday of September almost every year from 1992 to 2013, with the rivalry often serving as the first significant test of the season for both teams. (The lone exception during this period was 2001, when the game was postponed until December 1 due to the September 11th terrorist attacks.) The traditional scheduling was briefly discontinued in 2014, when the addition of two new members to the SEC temporarily scrambled the usual dates of many traditional conference rivalries and moved the Florida–Tennessee game to October. The game was moved back to its usual late-September date for 2015.
Tennessee dominated the early series, winning their first 10 meetings with Florida over a span of 37 years (1916–53). The highlight of this period was a 1928 season-ending match-up between undefeated squads in Knoxville that the Volunteers won 13–12. Florida finally broke Tennessee’s win streak with a 14–0 victory in Knoxville in 1954, and Tennessee won the return visit to Gainesville the following year. The teams would not meet again until the 1969 Gator Bowl, the longest gap in the series. In that highly unusual post-season match-up between conference foes, Florida won the game and then hired away the Tennessee’s head coach, former Gator quarterback Doug Dickey.
At the conclusion of the 1960s, Tennessee owned an 11–2 record against Florida.
1970s and 1980s
Tennessee won their first two clashes against Dickey’s Gators and Florida won the next two, including a 1976 victory in Gainesville that was their first home win in the 60 year history of the series. Dickey resigned as Florida’s coach after the 1978 season, ending a largely disappointing tenure at Florida and eventually returning to Knoxville in 1985 to become Tennessee’s athletic director.
Florida ran their win streak over Tennessee to four games (over nine seasons) with wins in Knoxville and Gainesville in 1984 and 1985. Florida held a 4–2 advantage over this time period.
One result of the SEC’s 1992 expansion and split into divisions was the beginning of an annual match-up between Florida and Tennessee at a time when both programs rose to national prominence. Under head coaches Steve Spurrier and Phillip Fulmer, the Gators and Volunteers were annual contenders for conference and national championships, with both teams usually fielding wide-open offenses led by top quarterbacks such as Danny Wuerffel and Peyton Manning, among many other future pro players on both sides of the ball.
Their first match-up as permanent opponents in 1992 helped to sow the seeds of rivalry, as the underdog Vols beat the defending SEC champion Gators in Neyland Stadium. Fulmer had been serving as UT’s interim head coach while Johnny Majors recovered from heart problems, but his team’s upset of the Gators helped to secure him the permanent position and brought about a decade of games in which the rivalry was one of the key match-ups of every college football season. The Gators turned the tables and upset the Volunteers in 1993, with true freshman Wuerffel outplaying Heisman trophy candidate Heath Shuler in a 41–34 win that was Fulmer’s first loss as Tennessee’s head coach.
The rivalry held national championship implications over each of the following seasons, with both teams entering the contests ranked in the top 10 every year. Though they were not always the favorite, Florida won five straight against Tennessee from 1993 to 1997, winning four SEC titles and a consensus national championship during that span. The 1994, 1995, and 1996 contests featured match-ups between starting quarterbacks Danny Wuerffel and Peyton Manning, who never beat Florida during his celebrated college career. But though Florida beat Tennessee in 1997, upset losses to LSU and Georgia propelled Tennessee to their own SEC championship in Manning’s senior year. Tennessee broke Florida’s winning streak in 1998 with a 20–17 overtime win and went on to win their second straight SEC championship and a national championship. In 1999, Florida upset the Vols in Gainesville to close out the decade.
During the 1990s, Florida and Tennessee combined to win eight conference and two national championships. Both teams were ranked in the top 10 for eight out of their ten contests during the decade, and neither team ever entered their rivalry game ranked lower than No. 15. Florida held a 7–3 record against Tennessee from 1990 to 1999.
Florida began the next decade with a 27–23 victory in Knoxville in front of a national record crowd of 108,768 fans. During the following season, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks postponed all NCAA Division-I football games that were scheduled to be played on Saturday, September 15 were postponed to a later date. The Florida and Tennessee match-up was rescheduled for December, when the Vols upset the Gators in Gainesville, winning in Florida Field for the first time since 1971. Steve Spurrier left Florida for the NFL after the 2001 season, but two trends in the rivalry continued in 2002: both teams were ranked in the top 10, and new Florida coach Ron Zook led the Gators to another win in Knoxville. However, both teams stumbled later in the season, and for the first time ever, neither would represent the SEC’s Eastern Conference in the SEC Championship Game. The 2002 contest would be the last time to date in which both schools would enter their annual clash ranked in the top 10.
For the first time since the division rivalry began 11 years earlier, the 2003 match-up featured UF and UT teams that were each ranked out of the top 10 (UT No. 12, UF No. 17), and the game was relegated to a noon kickoff on CBS. Tennessee pulled away in the second half to win 24–10 for their second victory in Gainesville. The Vols were victorious against Florida again in 2004 for their 2nd straight win against Florida and their third victory in four meetings.
Ron Zook was fired during the 2004 season, and new Gator coach Urban Meyer put an emphasis on defending their home turf. Florida’s 16–7 home win over Tennessee in 2005 helped to revive the program and started a Gator win streak in the rivalry that has continued for a decade. Meyer’s Gators beat Fulmer’s Volunteers again in 2006 and 2007, and while Florida was SEC and national champions in 2006, Tennessee reached the SEC championship game in 2007. Florida won 30–6 in Knoxville in 2008 on their way to another SEC and national championship season. After Tennessee recorded its second losing season within a four-year span, Fulmer resigned as the Vols’ head coach.
Lane Kiffin was hired as Tennessee’s new head coach for 2009 and commented in his introductory press conference that he would “sing Rocky Top all night” after his team beat Florida in Gainesville the following September. Soon after, he (incorrectly) accused Florida’s Urban Meyer of breaking recruiting rules over a player that ended up going to Tennessee, sparking a series of public jibes between the coaches that continued through the off-season and helped to make the 2009 match-up between the No. 1 Gators and the unranked Volunteers the rivalry’s most hyped meeting in several years. The game was a relatively uneventful 23–13 Florida win, but the coaches’ verbal sparring continued, with Meyer suggesting after the game that Kiffin had not played to win but had simply tried to “keep it close”, eventually leading SEC commissioner Mike Sliveto warn the coaches to end their war of words. In January 2010, Kiffin resigned to become the head coach at Southern California, abruptly ending his feud with Meyer after one season.
From 2000 to 2009, Florida again held a 7–3 advantage over Tennessee.
Florida continued their winning streak in the series as Urban Meyer was replaced by Will Muschamp (in 2011) and then Jim McElwain (in 2015), and Lane Kiffin was succeeded by Derek Dooley (in 2010) and then Butch Jones (in 2013). The Gators’ streak stands at 11, after the Gators overcame a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 28–27.
While the rivalry was still important to both schools and (occasionally) the conference standings, it often failed to have the national impact that it once had. In 2013, both Tennessee and Florida failed to qualify for a bowl game for the first time since 1978. The 2014 meeting was the first time since 1955 that both teams entered their match-up unranked.
1928: Unbeatens in the mud
Coming into their 1928 regular season finale, the Gators under head coach Charlie Bachman held an 8–0 record and had outscored their opponents by a nation-leading margin of 324–31. Coach Robert Neyland‘s Vols had been dominant as well; they were quarterbacked by Bobby Dodd and had outscored their opponents 236–39 and held an 8–0–1 record—the only blemish being a scoreless tie with Kentucky. Still, the Gators were favorites when the teams met in early December, and rumor had it that they would be in line for a Rose Bowl invitation had they prevailed in Knoxville.
They did not. Stymied by a stingy Vol defense and two failed point after touchdown attempts, the Gators fell, 13–12.
In what would become a trend in the series, controversy swirled around the contest. By all accounts, the playing surface had been a muddy mess. Some Gators claimed that the home team had watered down the field in an effort to slow down the speedy Gator stars, including halfbacks Red Bethea, Carl Brumbaugh and Royce Goodbread; fullback Rainey Cawthon, quarterback Clyde Crabtree, end Dutch Stanley, and Florida’s first-ever first-team All-American, end Dale Van Sickel The Vols protested that the sloppy conditions were simply the result of heavy rain the night before the game.
The teams would not become regular opponents for decades, and the Gators would not earn its first victory over the Vols for nearly a quarter century.
1969–70: Coaching carousel
The 9–1 SEC champion Vols and the 8–1–1 Gators were not on each other’s schedule in 1969. However, they were invited to play in the 1969 Gator Bowl, setting up a rare all-SEC bowl matchup and the only time the squads have faced off outside of the regular season.
The expected high-scoring battle featuring UF’s “Super Sophs” passing attack against UT’s powerful ground game led by quarterback Bobby Scott never materialized, as both defenses were superb in the Gators’ 14–13 win. Quarterback John Reaves connected with wide receiver Carlos Alvarez for the Gators’ only offensive touchdown, and the Gator defense stopped the Vols at Florida’s one-yard line late in the game to preserve the victory. Fittingly, the game’s MVP was Florida linebacker Mike Kelley, who had an interception, a fumble recovery, a blocked punt recovered for a TD, a sack, and 17 tackles.
However, the 1969 Gator Bowl is much more memorable for the coaching changes and rumors of coaching changes that surrounded the contest. Throughout December 1969, rumors had been circulating that Florida’s head coach and athletic director Ray Graves, who had been the captain of Tennessee’s 1941 football team, would retire from coaching at the conclusion of the season to become UF’s full-time AD. Though both Graves and university officials denied the rumor, speculation among fans, players, and media was that Graves would leave the sideline and popular defensive coordinator Gene Ellenson would be promoted to head coach.
The situation intensified in the days preceding the game when word leaked out that Vol head coach Doug Dickey, who had been Florida’s starting quarterback in the early 1950s and had grown up in Gainesville, planned to leave UT and replace Graves at UF after their respective teams met in the Gator Bowl. Dickey admitted to reporters that he had been offered the position at Florida, but Graves and UF president Stephen C. O’Connell continued to deny that personnel changes were imminent, with Graves stating that “there is utterly no truth to the rumor.”
Despite these denials, Dickey was introduced as the Gators’ new head football coach five days after the Gator Bowl contest by Florida’s new full-time AD, Ray Graves. Players on both the Florida and Tennessee squads were upset by the move and the NCAA conducted an investigation to determine whether ethics policies were violated. However, no wrongdoing was discovered and Dickey was the Gator head coach for 1970.
The teams did not meet very often in the SEC schedule, but following Georgia Tech’s departure, the regular season rotation coincidentally had them facing off in Knoxville the following October. UT fans, who denounced Dickey as a “traitor”, eagerly anticipated the match-up and were not disappointed, as the Vols beat his new Florida squad 38–7 behind quarterback Bobby Scott’s then-school record 385 passing yards. The Gators assisted the rout by committing four turnovers, including two John Reaves Interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Both Dickey and Graves remained in their respective positions at UF until the late 1970s, with Dickey fired after the 1978 season and Graves retiring in 1979. Later, in yet another twist, Dickey returned to Knoxville in 1985 to serve as UT’s athletic director, replacing Bob Woodruff. Woodruff had played football at Tennessee, but he had been Dickey’s head football coach at Florida and had also served as UF’s athletic director immediately preceding Ray Graves.
Dickey was the head of UT’s athletic department during the intense UF/UT Spurrier/Fulmer rivalry of the 1990s and retired in 2002, after which he moved to Jacksonville, Florida.
Steve Spurrier returned to his alma mater in 1990 to become the Gators’ new football coach. In yet another link between the programs, Spurrier had been a star quarterback at Science Hill High School in Johnson City, Tennessee during the early 1960s. Although Knoxville is nearby, he did not seriously consider attending UT because he was an excellent passer and the Vols ran a single-wing offense at the time which featured a running quarterback. Instead, he choose to return to the state of his birth (Spurrier was born in Miami Beach), eventually becoming the Gators’ first Heisman Trophy winner in 1966.
Spurrier’s first Gator squad was 5–0 and ranked No. 9 coming into the matchup with Johnny Majors’ 3–0–2 and No. 5 Vols, marking the first time in series history that both rivals were ranked in the AP top-10 when they faced off. (It was not Spurrier’s first visit to Knoxville as an opposing coach; his 1988 Duke Blue Devils had upset the Vols 31–26.)
The 1990 game began as a defensive struggle, with UT holding a slim 7–3 lead at the half. However, the Vols’ Dale Carter returned the second half kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown, igniting the home crowd at Neyland Stadium.
On their ensuing possession, the Gators fumbled for what would be the first of six UF turnovers in the second half. The opportunistic Vols took full advantage, turning Spurrier’s homecoming (and, coincidentally, UT’s homecoming game) into a dominating 45–3 rout, the largest margin of victory for either team in the series.
In the week before the 1991 game, media reports began circulating that former UT assistant coach Jack Sells, who had been fired before that season for his role in recruiting violations, had allegedly faxed UF defensive coordinator Ron Zook, himself a former Tennessee assistant, the Vols’ offensive gameplan. At first, both Zook and head coach Steve Spurrier denied receiving any information, though Zook soon clarified his statement and said that Sells had sent him a fax of newspaper clippings about the upcoming game, which he had immediately destroyed.
Florida won the contest 35–18 behind 245 yards and three touchdowns from Gator quarterback Shane Matthews and five Vol turnovers, but the “faxgate” controversy continued after the final whistle. A follow-up newspaper investigation in Knoxville located an employee of a local Kinko’s copy center who said that he had noticed Sells faxing copies of a UT “playbook” and insisted that Sells stop the transmission after 10–15 pages had been sent. The employee had saved the fax cover sheet, which detailed a transmission sent three days before the UF–UT game by a “Jack Sells” to a “Ron Zook” at a Gainesville telephone number.
While Vol athletic director (and former Gator quarterback and head football coach) Doug Dickey was not happy about the incident, both Phil Fulmer and Steve Spurrier downplayed its importance, Spurrier pointing out that UT gained over 400 yards of offense (including 392 passing yards) in the game and joked that it certainly didn’t seem like his defensive staff had any inside information. For his part, Fulmer later admitted that the UT staff had copies of the Gators’ offensive playbooks at the time. An SEC investigation concluded without punishment.
Jack Sells, the person at the center of the incident, left the coaching profession and successfully sued Kinko’s for privacy violations, though he moved out of the state of Tennessee after being assaulted by an angry Vols fan in Chattanooga. After a stint as an assistant coach in the NFL, Zook succeeded Spurrier as the Gators’ head coach in 2002. He was reluctant to talk about “Faxgate” during his tenure at UF (2002–04), though he did disclose that Sells’ infamous transmission had actually been a set of hand-drawn Volunteer offensive plays, but insisted that they “were so immaterial, and it made no difference and had no relevance, it was nothing.”
1995: Tale of two halves, Part I: Gainesville
For the third time in five seasons, the No. 8 Vols and No. 4 Gators were both undefeated and ranked in the top ten coming into their annual contest. The squads featured talented young quarterbacks in UT sophomore Peyton Manning and UF junior Danny Wuerffel, and many pregame prognosticators accurately predicted an offense shootout, with Sports Illustratedplanning on putting Manning on the cover of their magazine the week after the game.
The Vols struck quickly. On the first play from scrimmage, Manning connected with receiver Joey Kent for a 72-yard gain. On the next play, Manning threw a touchdown pass to Marcus Nash, giving UT a 7–0 lead only 15 seconds into the game. After another Manning touchdown pass and two Gator turnovers, the Vols held a 30–14 advantage late in the second quarter in front of a stunned Florida Field crowd. Wuerffel led the Gators to an answering score, cutting the lead to 30–21 with a touchdown pass in the last minute of the first half. That would be the beginning of a historic run, as Florida scored 48 straight points despite a torrential second half downpour and won in a 62–37 rout. Many records were broken in the game: Wuerffel threw an SEC record six touchdown passes; Tennessee set school records for most points scored in a loss and most points given up in the modern era. After the game,Sports Illustrated choose to put Wuerffel on its cover instead of Manning.
Florida would go 12–0 through the regular season and the SEC Championship Game and played for the national championship, pounded by the rushing of Tommie Frazier and Nebraskain the Fiesta Bowl, 62–24. Tennessee would not lose another game all season, finishing 11–1 after a Citrus Bowl victory over Ohio State. The schools finished No. 2 and No. 3 in the final polls, with the AP Poll placing the Gators ahead and the Coaches’ Poll reversing the order.
The Coaches’ Poll was another cause of controversy. Two coaches had voted the Gators out of their top ten, allowing the Vols to slip above them in the final rankings. Since the ballots were submitted secretly, the coaches in question were never identified, but some in the UF program suggested that UT’s coach Fulmer had purposely skewed his ballot to improve his team’s ranking at the expense of their rival. Fulmer insisted that he had not voted Florida out of his top ten, but did admit that he had ranked them behind his own team.
1996: Tale of two halves, Part II: Knoxville
Once again, UT and UF met while undefeated and highly ranked, with the Vols ranked No. 2 and Gators ranked No. 4.
The tone for the game was set on Florida’s first drive, as Spurrier spurned the punt team on a fourth-and-10 play from the UT 35, and Wuerffel connected with Reidel Anthony for a touchdown to put the Gators up 7–0. Teako Brown intercepted Manning on the Vols’ first drive, and it took Wuerffel only one play to find the end zone again, hitting Terry Jackson from 10 yards out to extend the lead to 14–0. UF doubled its lead in a 52-second stretch early in the 2nd quarter, as Ike Hilliard and Jacquez Green became the third and fourth different receivers with touchdown receptions on the afternoon, sandwiched around a James Bates interception of Manning. Antone Lott’s 27-yard fumble return stretched the lead to 35–0, before Manning finally got UT on the scoreboard before halftime on a 72-yard strike to Peerless Price.
With the Gators switching to a more conservative offensive game plan in the second half, Manning cut the lead to 35–22 with 8 minutes left with 2 more touchdown tosses, including a second to Price. Andy McCellough’s 14-yard reception brought the Vols within 35–29 with 10 seconds left, but UF recovered the ensuing onsides kick to hang on for a six-point win.
Florida went on to win its 4th straight SEC championship and first ever national championship.
1997: Spelling “Citrus”
During the mid-1990s, the second highest ranked SEC squad was usually invited to play in the Citrus Bowl after the season. Florida won four consecutive SEC titles from 1993 to 1996, beating Tennessee each time and twice sending them to the Citrus Bowl. Spurrier, who was often known to poke fun at rivals, made jokes at Tennessee’s expense during off-season Gator Booster dinners in the spring of 1997, pointing out that “you can’t spell Citrus without UT” and suggesting Peyton Manning had returned for his senior season at UT because “he wants to be a three-time Citrus Bowl MVP”.
Ironically, even after UF beat a Manning-led Vols squad in September 1997 for their fifth straight victory in the series, upset losses to LSU and Georgia put the Gators in the Citrus Bowl while UT won its first SEC Championship Game.
1998: Fulmer breaks through
After Peyton Manning and several other star players moved on to the NFL after the 1997 season, most preseason prognosticators saw Tennessee’s 1998 squad as taking a step backward from championship contention. However, they were still ranked No. 6 when the No. 2 Gators rolled into Knoxville looking to beat their rivals for the sixth consecutive year.
It was not to be. Led by junior quarterback Tee Martin and a stout defense, the Vols recovered four Gators fumbles, held their opponent to -30 yards rushing, and slowed UF’s two-quarterback passing attack, which featured Doug Johnson and Jesse Palmer alternating plays. The game was close throughout, with the score knotted at 10 at halftime and 17 at the end of regulation. Tennessee was held to a Jeff Hall field goal during their first possession of overtime. When it was UF’s turn, placekicker Collins Cooper missed an answering field goal, giving UT a 20–17 win and inspiring the jubilant home fans to rush the turf of Neyland Stadium and tear down the goalposts.
It was not the first last-minute win for the Vols that season, and it would not be the last, either. UT survived several close calls to complete their first perfect season (12–0) since 1938 and claimed their first national championship since 1952 with a 23–16 victory over Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl
2000: The “Catch?”
In front of a record crowd in Neyland Stadium, the Vols had dominated the 2000 UF/UT contest on the strength of stifling defense and 175 rushing yards from running back Travis Henry. However, an inability to finish drives led to a school record five field goals from kicker Alex Walls and a slim 23–20 lead.
Down by that score late in the fourth quarter, UF took possession of the ball at their own 9-yard line. Gator quarterback Jesse Palmer steadily led his team down the field, and with 14 seconds left in the game, they found themselves with a first and goal at the Vols’ 3.
After a touchdown pass was called back on an illegal man downfield penalty, Palmer’s next pass was to wide receiver Jabar Gaffney in the endzone. The ball made it to Gaffney’s hands and was almost instantly slapped away by Vol cornerback Willie Miles. The official in the area signaled a touchdown, ruling that Gaffney had had possession of the ball long enough to be considered a catch. After a brief conference with the referee, the call was confirmed despite strident protests from the UT coaching staff and loud boos from the crowd. The extra point gave Florida a controversial 27–23 victory.
The Volunteer squad and fans were incensed by the call, as they believed Gaffney never gained possession of the ball and that the pass should have been ruled incomplete. Vanderbilt alumnus Al Matthews, the referee who made the initial call, received death threats after the game and was not assigned to officiate any games in Knoxville until after Fulmer left.
2001: Season finale
As usual, the Gators and Vols were slated to meet on the 3rd Saturday of September during the 2001 season. However, the SEC canceled all games on the weekend following theSeptember 11 attacks, and all contests were rescheduled for December 1, 2001, requiring the SEC Championship Game to be pushed back a week as well.
As the season progressed, the postponed game took on greater and greater importance. Each squad suffered only one close loss and entered the contest with Tennessee ranked No. 6 and Florida ranked No. 2. The winner would represent the SEC East and face LSU in the SEC Championship. With a win in that game, the Gators or Vols were likely to receive an invitation to the Rose Bowl to face the undefeated Miami Hurricanes with a national title on the line.
But in 2001, despite the teams’ identical records and much to the chagrin of the Vols, the Gators were 17-and-a-half point favorites at kickoff.
Gators starting running back Earnest Graham had been controversially injured in UF’s win over rival Florida State the previous week and was unable to play. The star of the game would turn out to be the running back for the other squad, as UT’s Travis Stephens rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries to lead the Vols’ attack. Without Graham, Florida managed only 36 total yards on the ground. Gator quarterback Rex Grossman threw 51 times for 362 yards and two touchdowns, but his pass on a potentially game-tying two-point conversion attempt with just over a minute left in the 4th quarter fell incomplete. The Vols held on for a 34–32 upset victory, ending a 30-year winless drought against Florida in Gainesville, although the two squads had only met eight times in Gainesville from 1971 to 2001.
Ultimately, neither team would win any championships that season. UT was upset by LSU in the SEC Championship Game the following Saturday and missed their opportunity to play for a second national title in four years. The Vols ended up beating Michigan 45–17 in the Citrus Bowl. Florida was invited to the Orange Bowl, where they beat Maryland 56–23.
The teams’ December meeting would become even more historical in early January, when Steve Spurrier announced that he was resigning as Florida’s head coach after 12 seasons. The 2001 game was thus the last matchup in the Spurrier-Fulmer chapter of the rivalry (they would meet several additional occasions after Spurrier became South Carolina‘s head coach in 2005) and Spurrier’s last home game at Florida Field.
2004: Unsportsmanlike conduct
Like the game in Knoxville four years previously, the 2004 UF/UT contest on Tennessee’s home field also ended in controversy involving an official’s call.
Holding on to a slim 28–27 lead, Florida was attempting to run the clock out late in the fourth quarter. Florida gained one first down, then were stopped on the subsequent third down play and began to send in the punt team with under a minute left in the game and the clock running.
After the play, however, Gator receiver Dallas Baker and Vols defensive back Jonathan Wade got into an altercation, with Wade head-slapping Baker and Baker responding with a head slap of his own. Referee Bobby Moreau appeared to have a clear view of the incident, but only Baker was called with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The officials had stopped the clock with 55 seconds left in the game to call the penalty and move the Gators back 15 yards, but then incorrectly neglected to restart the clock before the ball was snapped for the punt.
UT received the punt and quickly drove to the Florida 33-yard-line. With six seconds left, placekicker James Wilhoit, who had missed a game-tying extra point earlier in the quarter, earned redemption by hitting a 50-yard field goal, giving his team a 30–28 victory.
The Gator squad and fans were incensed by both the penalty and the subsequent failure to restart the game clock, feeling that the combination of calls had given the Vols an undeserved chance to win the game. Bobby Moreau, the official who called the penalty on Baker, received death threats after the game. SEC director of officials Bobby Gaston subsequently removed Moreau from working games in Gainesville.
2009: Kiffin versus Meyer
Lane Kiffin replaced Phil Fulmer as Tennessee’s new head coach before the 2009 season. At his introductory press conference, Kiffin boldly predicted that he would “sing Rocky Topall night” in Gainesville after his team beat Florida the following September. Soon after, he incorrectly accused Florida coach Urban Meyer of breaking recruiting rules over a player that ended up going to Tennessee, sparking a series of public jibes between the coaches that continued all through the off-season and helped to make the 2009 meeting the most anticipated game in the series in several years despite the fact that Gators were ranked No. 1 and the Volunteers were unranked.
The game was a relatively uneventful 23–13 Florida win, but the coaches’ verbal sparring continued in the post-game press conferences. Meyer suggested that Kiffin had not played to win but had simply tried to “keep it close” and mentioned that the Gators’ sluggish play on the afternoon was partly due to the fact that several players, including their star quarterback Tim Tebow, had the flu. From the visiting locker room, Kiffin sarcastically responded that “after we’re not excited about our performance, we’ll tell you that everybody was sick.” Eventually, SEC commissioner Michael Slive publicly warned the coaches to end their war of words, and later sent an official letter of reprimand to Kiffin when he continued to criticize opposing coaches and SEC officials. In January 2010, Kiffin resigned to become the head coach at Southern California, abruptly ending his feud with Meyer after only one season.
2014: Fourth quarter comeback
For the first time since 1955, both teams came into Knoxville unranked. It was mightily a defensive struggle for both teams, with Tennessee leading 9–0 at halftime on a trio of field goals by kicker Aaron Medley. Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel performed his worst outing in his career, going 11–of–23 passing for a paltry 59 yards while throwing three interceptions. Tennessee had a chance to capitalize on a scoring opportunity deep in Florida territory after a Driskel interception to start the second half, but quarterback Justin Worley’s pass was picked off at the goal line. Florida coach Will Muschamp pulled Driskel from the game late in the third quarter in favor of backup quarterback Treon Harris. The strategy paid off, as the Gators finally scored on a Matt Jones touchdown run to cut the Vols’ lead to 9–7. Florida’s next drive was capped off by a 49-yard field goal by struggling kicker Austin Hardin, giving the Gators the lead for good at 10–9. Tennessee looked poised to end the Gators’ nine-game series winning streak on its final drive, but Worley’s pass near midfield was intercepted by Florida defensive back Keanu Neal, preserving the Gators’ slim victory.
2015: Another fourth quarter comeback
For just the second time since 1955, both teams came into this game in Gainesville unranked. However, both teams had higher expectations, with the Gators led by first head coach Jim McElwain, and Tennessee under Butch Jones a media favorite to win the SEC East, and the 2015 contest was billed as one of the most hyped up games in recent memory.
The Gators opened up an early 7–0 lead on a touchdown run by Kelvin Taylor, but the Vols scored touchdowns on a reverse pass to quarterback Josh Dobbs and a fourth down jump pass from the Florida goal line and led 17–7 at halftime. The Gators cut the lead to 20–14 by the end of the third period, but a Jalen Hurd touchdown run with 10 minutes left in the game extended the Tennessee lead to 27–14.
Led by freshman quarterback Will Grier, Florida responded with a 17-play, 86-yard drive that included two fourth down conversions and ended with a touchdown to make the score 27-21. The Gators got the ball back with two minutes left, but soon faced a fourth down and 14 yards to go situation. Grier threw to Antonio Callaway on a curl in route on the right hash marks near the first down marker, and with a block by fellow wide receiver Brandon Powell that took out two Volunteer defenders, Callaway ran untouched down the sideline for a 63-yard touchdown that gave the Gators a 28–27 lead with 1:26 to play. This was the Gators’ fifth successful fourth-down conversion in as many attempts in the game.
Tennessee mounted a last-minute drive, and with three seconds left, kicker Aaron Medley lined up to attempt a 55-yard field goal to win the game. The kick was badly off target to the right, but Florida coach Jim McElwain had called timeout right before the snap because his team had 12 men on the field. Medley’s second attempt sailed just wide to the right, grazing the field goal post and Florida held on for their 11th straight win in the series.
Buoyed by the dramatic win, the Gators would go on to win the SEC East for the first time since 2009.
2016: Duck Pulling a Truck
Tennessee came into the 2016 season as the “overwhelming” favorite to win the SEC Eastern Division and make it to their first SEC Championship Game since 2007. However, close victories against heavy underdogs in two of their first three contests saw them drop from their preseason top ten ranking, and they were ranked No. 14 despite an undefeated record heading into their rivalry game with Florida. Meanwhile, Florida had begun 2016 on the edge of the top-25 after losing four straight contests to end the previous season, but three easy victories in which the starting defense did not allow a touchdown had the Gators ranked No. 19.
With Gators starting quarterback Luke Del Rio out with a knee injury and the game being played in Knoxville, Florida was a 6.5 point underdog, and many prognosticators predicted that Tennessee would break their 11-game losing streak against their rivals. However, prior to the game, Florida cornerback Quincy Wilson confidently predicted that the streak would continue. “Nobody has ever seen a duck pull a truck”, he said to reporters. “Florida Gators are going to win, simple as that.”
Behind backup quarterback Austin Appleby, Florida jumped out to a 21–0 lead midway through the second quarter. Tennessee twice had a first down inside the Gators’ five yard line during the first half but were unable to score a touchdown, and they trailed 21–3 at the break. The second half started off no better for the Volunteers, as Joshua Dobbs threw an interception deep in Florida territory. But then the game saw a complete reversal of fortune. Dobbs led Tennessee’s turnaround, accounting for five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) after intermission while the defense shut down a Florida attack which had gained 300 yards in the first half. Starting with a field goal late in the first half, Tennessee scored 38 consecutive points to take a 38–28 victory and break the Gators’ long series win streak. “That duck is pulling that truck, baby!” commented Tennessee coach Butch Jones in the postgame news conference.