The Vols might have a two-game winning streak in Gainesville if not for a pair of 63-yard touchdowns late.
First, it was Antonio Callaway’s catch, turn and run down the sideline with 1:26 remaining in 2015, a fourth-and-14 play that lifted the Gators to a 28-27 victory. Two years later, Feleipe Franks heaved a pass to Tyrie Cleveland in the back of the end zone on the final play, turning a tie game into a 26-20 triumph.
The Gators avoided upsets both times and added to their dominance in what used to be the most prominent series in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division.
Tennessee (1-2, 0-0) gets another shot to upend ninth-ranked Florida (3-0, 1-0) on Saturday (noon, ESPN), trying to snap a seven-game skid at Florida Field and win for just the second time in the last 15 meetings.
“I know they are looking to ruin our season,” Gators linebacker David Reese said.
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask, a college graduate who could have transferred and played elsewhere, will make his first start since his freshman year in high school. Trask got his first meaningful snaps since 2012 last week at Kentucky after replacing injured starter Feleipe Franks (broken/dislocated ankle) to start the fourth quarter and led the Gators to 19 points and a 29-21 win.
Florida had to rally to win twice this season, coming from behind to beat Miami in the opener and then overcoming an 11-point deficit against the Wildcats. The Gators also struggled early against Tennessee-Martin, leading 17-0 at halftime before pulling away late.
“The thing that impresses me the most about these guys is they’ve been in two really close games, probably had just as good a chance to lose the games as they did to win them,” Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “But they found a way to win the games, and that’s the mark of a team that has character, toughness and knows how to finish.”
Pruitt is trying to instill the same traits in his team.
Tennessee lost to lower-division Georgia State last month and then came up short in double overtime against BYU. Now, the Vols are two-touchdown underdogs for their first road trip of the season.
“We’re fired up,” Tennessee receiver Jauan Jennings said. “It’s a road game, going into the Swamp. Florida. How else can you put it?”
Some other things to know heading into the 49th meeting in the series:
Florida hopes to get All-SEC cornerback CJ Henderson back from a sprained ankle, but the Gators will be without elusive receiver Kadarius Toney (shoulder) and maybe defensive end Jabari Zuniga (ankle). Linebacker Amari Burney also missed the past two games.
Adding to the injury woes, safety Donovan Stiner is suspended for the first half because of a targeting ejection at Kentucky.
Tennessee cornerback Bryce Thompson is making the trip to Gainesville, but it’s unclear whether he will make his season debut.
Thompson, who started 10 games as a freshman last year, was arrested last month on a misdemeanor domestic assault charge and suspended from the team. He returned to practice last week.
Linebacker Jeremy Banks also is traveling. Banks intercepted two passes last week and then arrested following the game. He was stopped for making an illegal U-turn early Sunday, and officers discovered he had an active warrant for failing to appear in court on a charge of driving with a suspended license.
The Gators have scored 24 or more points in seven consecutive games, the first time they’ve done so since a 24-game stretch between October 2007 and September 2009. Florida also has consecutive 300-yard passing games for the first time since 2007.