No. 4 Tennessee, which came into this critical SEC encounter with execution question marks, came unglued — committing a school-record eight fumbles and losing three.
Florida turned two of those miscues into 10 points in the final three minutes of the first half for a 24-0 lead at intermission.
The Vols cut into the lead with back-to-back scoring drives in the third quarter, but Florida countered with a touchdown drive to start the fourth quarter and put the game out of reach.
Rex Grossman did most of the damage for Florida connecting on 20-of-35 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns. The totals are more impressive when viewed against his 3-of-13 start.
The turning point came on a third down and 13, when Grossman escaped a blitzing Vol, broke a couple of tackles and picked up the first down with a 20-yard run. On the next play, he found Taylor Jacobs over the middle for a 52-yard gain to Tennessee's 2.
From there it took the Gators four plays and a favorable call to put the first points of the game on the board. Earnest Graham got the TD on a one-yard run when he reached the ball toward the goal after being stopped dead in his tracks. One official signaled a touchdown and the Gators broke on top 7-0 with 4:52 left in the half.
Tennessee's Corey Larkins fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Gators were back in business deep in Tennessee territory. The Vols defense stiffened, but on third down and 13 Grossman found Carlos Perez for a 28-yard TD.
On the first play of UT's next possession, Casey Clausen fumbled the snap and Florida recovered again. Rashad Baker appeared to end the bad break barrage with a key interception at the 2 yard-line for Tennessee, but the Vols fumbled the next two snap attempts and ended up punting from the 3.
Blessed again with good field position and momentum Grossman led the Gators down field. This time he located Jacobs in the corner of the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown and a 21-0 Florida lead.
With only :36 remaining in the first half, it didn't appear the Vols would fall behind any further, but Troy Fleming had the ball ripped away while running a delay and Florida found itself in field goal range with only two seconds remaining. The Gators successfully converted the opportunity and the shellshocked Vols found themselves facing a four-possession and 24-point deficit in bad weather.
Tennessee had an opportunity to take an early lead in the first quarter, but saw its scoring drive halted at the Florida 10 and Alex Walls had his 27-yard field goal attempt blocked.
The Vols also gave Florida a first down after forcing a fourth down when called for a 15-yard penalty for illegal substitution. Overall Tennessee was flagged for 11 penalties covering 78 yards. Included in among those violations were three delay of game penalties and one for lining up offside on offense.
It was Tennessee's worst defeat since the 42-17 setback to Nebraska in the 1997 Orange Bowl. It was the worst regular season loss since the Vols were pounded by Florida 62-38 on Sept. 16, 1995 in Gainesville. It was the worst home loss since Florida beat UT 31-0 in 1994.
"It's disappointing to anybody that follows Tennessee football," said Coach Phillip Fulmer in an interview broadcast on the Vol Network. "I apologize to the fans. It was the worst four minutes and 55 seconds I've ever experienced. It starts with me and goes to our coaches and the players.
"I congratulate Florida on a good game, but we did a lot to help them."
Outside of the score, the game was close statistically. Florida had 69 plays for 418 yards. Tennessee had 77 plays for 384 yards. Florida rushed 34 times for 94 yards and the Vols gained 99 yards on the ground in 33 carries. Tennessee had the ball for 33:07 to Florida's 26:53. The Gators had 21 first downs and UT had 20. The Vols converted 7-of-18 third down chances to Florida's 6-of-13. Tennessee picked off two Grossman passes while Florida finished with no interceptions.
However while the Vols put the ball on the ground eight times, Florida fumbled but once. Additionally all the Vols' turnovers were deep in their own territory while Florida's three turnovers left Tennessee with a long way to go to score.
"It was just a really poor job of executing as a football team," Fulmer said. "We didn't do anything consistently well until the third quarter when we looked more like a football team."
Tennessee scored on third-quarter drives of 7 plays, 59 yards and 14 plays, 67 yards. Derrick Tinsley caught a screen pass and took it 15 yards for the Vols first score and Jabari Davis capped the second drive with a one-yard plunge. Walls misfired on the extra point, the first miss of the senior's collegiate career.
Starting tailback Cedric Houston left the game in the first quarter with a thigh bruise and didn't have any carries in the game. Tennessee wideout Kelley Washington saw his first action of the season and caught seven passes for 101 yards.
Tennessee takes on Rutgers next week in Knoxville.