With his team down nine points on the road, struggling to score and the game slipping away, Florida coach Will Muschamp did what Gator fans had been begging him to do for several weeks.
He let Treon Harris play.
With eight seconds remaining in the third quarter and in the midst of a second straight game of woeful offensive production, Muschamp pulled junior quarterback Jeff Driskel and replaced him with the freshman from Miami who up to that point had thrown two passes for two touchdowns for the Gators.
Harris engineered a five-play, 30-yard scoring drive and eventually led the Gators to a come-from-behind 10-9 victory over Tennessee in front of 102,455 at Neyland Stadium - keeping the Gators' SEC East title hopes alive and ensuring the seniors walked away having never lost to the Vols. Florida (3-1, 2-1 SEC) extended its winning streak over Tennessee (2-3, 0-2) to 10 games.
"We felt like we were very stagnant and we needed to make a change and go with Treon, and he obviously brought some energy to us," Muschamp said. "I'm really proud of his composure coming into a tough place and just doing an outstanding job. I'm extremely proud of him."
Driskel was 11-of-23 for 59 yards, although there were many dropped passes and a tipped ball for one of his three interceptions.
Although visibly disappointed after the game, Driskel said: "We weren't getting much going there, and it was a little momentum shift to see if we could change the momentum, and it did. So obviously that was the right choice today."
While Harris garnered the hero status, it was the Gators defense that excelled. Florida had six sacks - three by sophomore defensive end Bryan Cox - and held the Vols to 5 of 17 on third-down conversions and three field goals. It was cornerback Jalen Tabor who forced and recovered a fumble by Vols quarterback Justin Worley to set up the scoring drive. Harris also led an eight-play drive that culminated in a 49-yard field goal from Austin Hardin with 3:38 remaining. The defense did the rest, capped by safety Keanu Neal's interception with 51 seconds remaining.
Harris was 2-for-4 for 17 yards and rushed four times for 24 yards, but what he brought was an immediate spark, and a run threat the Vols weren't prepared for.
"He doesn't seem like a freshman," said Gators running back Matt Jones, who had 23 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown. "I mean, he's calm and relaxed. He plays like he's a senior. Well not a senior, but he played like he had a couple years of experience. He's great with the ball in his hands."
Harris' play most likely will create further fierce debate, but Muschamp said the coaching staff won't get caught up in the emotion.
"Moving forward, we won't make any decision on who's going to start our next ball game," Muschamp said of this coming weekend's game against No. 15 LSU in Gainesville. "It was a very emotional win. We're going to go home, we're going to watch the film, we're going to see why we're not offensively doing some things we feel like are there. It wasn't all on Jeff. ... We just weren't getting into any flow of the game. ... So our execution offensively, our communication needs to improve tremendously. ... It's not all on Jeff Driskel and I know that we'll all write that it is on him. It's not."
Contact Antonya English at email@example.com or (813) 226-3389. Follow @TBTimes_Gators.