A simple chalkboard mocked them all. Tennessee players shuffled about the visitors' locker room at the south end of Florida's Ben Hill Griffin Stadium last Saturday evening, beaten and wordless, while the white scribbles on the green board condemned their effort. 4 QTRS, it read. Four quarters. Play a full game. In the halftime clamor two hours earlier, Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer had bounced through the room, slamming shoulder pads. "Thirty more minutes," he had shouted. "Thirty more minutes and you're the Number 1 team in the Southeastern Conference."
How could they have known what would hit them in the second half? Full of the ease with which they had twice led by 16 points in the first half, buoyed by the knowledge that Florida seemed so beatable, how could they have known? Two days earlier Tennessee senior offensive tackle Jason Layman had said, "I've never wanted to win a football game as much as this one." It was the game that would define the Volunteers' autumn. And surely after dominating for 30 minutes, they would win it. "Let's go, baby, let's go baby," yelled senior center Bubba Miller, as he led his teammates into the bludgeoning Florida heat for the second half. "Don't let 'em breathe."
In fact, last Saturday proved a breathtaking occasion in the upper precincts of college football. Both No. 1 Florida State (page 25) and No. 2 Nebraska scored 77 points, against North Carolina State and Arizona State, respectively; No. 6 Penn State and No. 7 Colorado each got 66 points, against Temple and Northeast Louisiana, respectively; and No. 3 Texas A&M went easy on Tulsa, 52-9. Those inflated scores are becoming the norm, and the games have been paced like MTV: blink and you miss three touchdowns. The Cornhuskers hung up 63 points before halftime. The Seminoles, Aggies and Nittany Lions punted four times...combined.
But what Florida did to Tennessee was something different. Unlike the Temples and the Tulsas, the Volunteers were not some piece of fresh fall meat, brought in as scrimmage hamburger for Gator coach Steve Spurrier's high-powered offense. Tennessee was ranked eighth in the country by the Associated Press; it was a potent offensive force in its own right, and it had owned the first half against Florida. The Gators, however, had pulled to within striking distance, with just nine seconds left in the second quarter, when their quarterback, Danny Wuerffel, threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Ike Hilliard to make it 30-21. That gave Spurrier the courage, he said later, to tell his team at halftime that they "were in good shape."
And then for 30 spectacular minutes, Florida ran across Tennessee like some awful storm, dropping 41 consecutive points on the Volunteers en route to a 62-37 victory. That was more points than any Tennessee team had given up in a century. The Gator scoring strikes spanned the unpredictable central Florida afternoon, from Wuerffel's sun-splashed six-yard touchdown pass, again to Hilliard, with 7:10 left in the third quarter, to the last of his six TD throws, a 20-yard fly to Chris Doering through the remnants of an evening downpour that turned Florida Field into a celebratory mosh pit. Unlike most of the scores last weekend, those 62 points were the product of excellence, not adroit scheduling and merciless coaching.
In the aftermath the 50-year-old Spurrier stood soaked and satisfied, bathed in the youthful confidence that so infuriates his peers and so ingratiates his constituents. "I said to myself during the game that I thought we could score about every time we got the ball," he said. "As it turned out, we almost did."
If it can be said that a shoot-out like this has a turning point, then that moment occurred on Tennessee's first drive of the second half. Sophomore quarterback Peyton Manning, who had completed 13 of 16 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns in the first two quarters, drove the Volunteers swiftly to a first-and-10 on the Florida 11-yard line. It seemed certain that Tennessee would hold serve, would again stretch its lead to 16 points.
But that drive stalled after Manning was sacked on the 16 by Dexter Daniels. The Volunteers' redshirt freshman kicker Jeff Hall, who had beaten Georgia with a field goal one week earlier, missed a 22-yard attempt. This, Spurrier thought, was a good omen. "I figure we've got a good chance against the guys who attempt field goals against us," he said, "because we don't try too many of those."
Florida can turn a football game into something like grass basketball, challenging an opponent to match fast breaks. The game accelerates to a pace that the two teams can't possibly sustain, and Spurrier is confident that his opponents will weaken first. "I don't know exactly what to say," Spurrier said after the game. " Tennessee, I thought, was executing pretty doggone well." But following Hall's missed field goal attempt, the Volunteers crumbled and the Gators exploded.
Florida scored on six consecutive possessions, benefiting greatly from two fumbles by Tennessee running back Jay Graham, but much more from Spurrier's planning—"Just draw up some new ball plays and get out there," he said—and Wuerffel's execution.