It’s officially Florida week for the Tennessee Volunteers and they will face yet another Gator backup quarterback in the annual matchup.
For the past decade, it’s become almost certain that Florida will lose its starting quarterback due to injury either during or right before the matchup between the two teams. The Vols have only been successful against Florida’s backup just once in the past decade, and that came when the Vols ended their 11-game win streak against the Gators in 2016 when Florida started Austin Appleby.
So, unfortunately for Tennessee, they have to play Florida’s backup QB now…
— Trey Wallace (@TreyWallace_) September 15, 2019
The same thing happened yet again this past Saturday, as Florida lost Feleipe Franks for the season due to a pretty horrific ankle injury. Franks was trying to stretch out a run but was bent backwards by a Kentucky player as he landed on Franks’ ankle. A completely different Florida team came out of the gate after losing Franks, as the Gators, led by backup Kyle Trask, scored 19 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to come back and beat the Wildcats.
Trask ended up going 9-of-13 for 126 yards in just one quarter. The first drive Trask was in, Florida scored a touchdown. While he didn’t have a touchdown pass, he threw four straight completions to move them down the field.
Overall, Kentucky ended up getting the Tennessee curse, as a backup QB came in and led a comeback for the win for the Gators.
Now, let’s take a look at the Vols’ history against Florida’s backup QBs:
2013: Jeff Driskel injury
The Tennessee Vols went down to The Swamp in 2013 looking to beat a No. 19 ranked team. Florida came into this game led by Jeff Driskel.
The Vols seemed to have figured out Driskel early. He started the game off 3-of-6 for just 33 yards and had an interception returned for a touchdown by Tennessee’s Devaun Swafford. On that touchdown return, Driskel broke his fibula, ending his season.
Tyler Murphy filled in for Driskel and ended up torching the Vols. Murphy ended up going 8-of-14 on the day, throwing for 132 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed10 times for 84 yards and a touchdown.
Murphy connected with Solomon Patton for a 52-yard touchdown as Florida took the 10-7 lead on the Vols and never looked back. Murphy added a seven-yard rushing touchdown at the start of the fourth quarter to give the Gators the 21-point lead. That same drive, he had a rush for 28 yards.
2014: Driskel replaced, Treon Harris leads comeback
The next season, the Gators headed into a soldout Neyland Stadium. Driskel was the starting quarterback for the Gators, as he had recovered from his season-ending injury from the previous season.
Like the previous season, the Vols had Driskel figured out. He went just 11-of-23 for a total of 59 yards through nearly three quarters. The Vols intercepted Driskel three times, including picks from Todd Kelly Jr., Jalen Reeves-Maybin, and Cam Sutton.
You would think with those stats that the Vols would be able to run away with this game, but Tennessee struggled to get anything going offensively. Justin Worley threw for 205 yards but had two picks, while the Vols combined for 28 rushing yards.
Will Muschamp made the right decision, replacing Driskel with Treon Harris. Harris had just two throws on the season, but came into Neyland and led the comeback.
The Vols had built a 9-0 lead going into the fourth quarter. Like the year before, Tennessee struggled to stop Florida’s running quarterback, as he helped set up Florida’s touchdown with a 10-yard rush before Matt Jones cut the Vols lead to 9-7.
The Gators hit a field goal to take the one-point lead with just six minutes left. Tennessee had two drives stall out, as they suffered two straight defeats against Florida’s backup quarterback.
2015: Treon Harris named starter, Will Grier replaces him
While this one could’ve been left out, I decided to put this in the list, considering Harris was the starter coming into the year.
Harris started in the season opener against New Mexico State, where he and Will Grier split action in their blowout win. Harris also started their next game against East Carolina, but was replaced by Grier after he struggled in their 31-24 victory.
Grier started for the Gators against the Vols, where he had a great game, throwing for 283 yards on 23-of-42 passing. He added on two touchdowns while throwing just one interception.
His last touchdown of the day was one of the most memorable touchdowns in this rivalry. The Vols held a 27-21 lead looking to stop a late score from the Gators. The Vols had the Gators in a 4th-and-14 situation, but Grier was able to find Antonio Callaway, as he streaked down the sideline to give the Gators the one-point lead.
Tennessee had a good chance to make a game-winning field goal, but Aaron Medley barely missed a 55-yard field goal, as Florida won yet another game in this series.
It was Tennessee’s luck, as Grier was suspended just two games later after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
2016: Luke Del Rio goes down, Appleby fills in
For the fourth straight year, the quarterback who was named the starter for the Gators didn’t make it to the game against the Vols.
Luke Del Rio was named the starter going into the 2016 season and was having a successful year, but suffered a knee injury against North Texas, just a week before the Tennessee game.
Appleby filled in for the injured Del Rio, throwing just four passes and two completions against North Texas for a total of 30 yards.
It looked like Tennessee was facing the curse of Florida’s backup quarterbacks, as the Gators got out to a hot start and a 21-0 lead. Appleby had two touchdown passes in the first half as well.
Tennessee found their stride after halftime, scoring 38 unanswered points, led by Josh Dobbs. If it wasn’t for Dobbs’ impressive day, where he passed for 319 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 80 yards and a touchdown, the Vols would’ve fallen to yet another backup quarterback for the Gators.
2017: Franks struggles in opener, throws Hail Mary against the Vols a week later
Franks beat out Del Rio and Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire going into the 2017 season. The Gators’ first game of the season came against a ranked Michigan team.
Franks and the Gators got off to a shaky start. The Gators led 17-13 at halftime, but that was because of two pick-sixes from the Florida defense. He was 5-of-9 on the day for just 75 yards and was replaced by Zaire after he fumbled the ball early in the third quarter.
Despite struggling in the season opener, the Gators rode with Franks in this matchup, which ended up paying off. This game had all the makings of the 2014 game, as the only points through three quarters came from field goals.
The fourth quarter featured 37 points, as the two teams traded points. Medley hit a 27-yard field goal with 50 seconds left. It looked like Florida was just going to take the game into OT, but the Gators wanted one more shot at the end zone. Franks found a streaking Tyrie Cleveland who snuck past the Vols defense for a 63-yard Hail Mary to win the game on the final play of the game.
As you can see from those five examples, the Vols have had terrible luck against Florida’s quarterbacks throughout the past decade. If it wasn’t for Dobbs and Jauan Jennings breaking Jalen Tabor, the Vols would be 0-5 since 2013 against Florida quarterbacks who were either backup quarterbacks or were replaced at some point before the Tennessee game.
As they say, history tends to repeat itself, so we will see on Saturday in The Swamp if history truly does repeat itself. We all know that Trask will solidify himself as a Heisman candidate after the Vols and Gators face off.