The only thing that was missing for Butch Jones and his team was a Vols win.
Tennessee left The Swamp with a familiar feeling of heartbreak and dejection as Florida stormed back from a 13-point deficit to beat the Vols, 28-27, and extend its winning streak over its SEC Eastern Division rival to 11 consecutive games.
"Everybody hurts, especially the ones that invest in it every single day," Jones said. "But also, I know we have great character in our football program. You want them to hurt, but then we have to come back and get ready for Arkansas.
"I don't know if it's the maturation process, but we have to start learning how to close games out. We're one play away and we come up short."
The game was a classic version of the Tennessee-Florida contests that have defined this fierce rivalry matchup since the 1990s. The wacky and weird weren’t just present — it became the norm.
In the first quarter, Vols quarterback Josh Dobbs caught a double pass from wide receiver and former backup quarterback Jauan Jennings 58 yards to the house to put Tennessee on the board and tie the game at 7-7. Dobbs ended the night 10-of-17 for just 83 passing yards but also led the team in rushing (136 yards) and receiving (58 yards).
The offense cut through Florida’s stringent run defense like a machete through vines, racking up 254 yards for five yards per carry on a defense giving up less than two yards a rush on the year.
But a wide array of mental and technical errors plagued a team that stood in utter disbelief on the sideline of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium Saturday as they lost yet another game to Florida.
"Is our resiliency being tested right now? Absolutely," Jones said. "But it's only the fourth game of the football season as well. We have to keep grinding it out. That's the only way I know and it's the only way these kids know."
Up 12, Jones decided not to go for the two-point conversion to make it a two-score game, citing a chart that details what to do in that situation for the decision.
"We have a chart that's pretty standard in football that, first of all, kind of maps it out," Jones said. "We just felt, at that stage in the game, we had great confidence in our defense of getting off the football field ... We felt very comfortable with that decision."
The Vols’ defense, which had held steady throughout the course of the first three quarters, collapsed to allow a 63-yard touchdown by Antonio Callaway on fourth down with under two minutes to play to eventually seal the win for the Gators.
"What can I say? I think the whole glaring thing is fourth down," Jones said. "(If we stop) three very critical fourth down conversion and we win the football game."
Even when it seemed like Tennessee was doing things right, the end result was wrong. Players and coaches preached all week about how Florida doesn’t have a mental edge on them due to UF’s recent dominance over the series, and that seemed to be the case until the very end.
"It's a long, long football season. You have to keep that in mind," Jones said. (It's) the 24 hour rule, just like if we would have won the football game. I expect our players to bounce back and continue to work. That's all you can do."