Under Will Muschamp and Jim McElwain, the Florida-Tennessee game was traditionally nip-and-tuck, coming down to the final possession in three of the previous four meetings and never a runaway.

Saturday night in Knoxville at a sold-out Neyland Stadium, Florida coach Dan Mullen showed, at least for one evening, why his tenure in Gainesville might be different.

The Gators steamrolled Tennessee 47-21, opening a 23-point lead by halftime, silencing what had been a deafening Neyland Stadium crowd and sending them scrambling to the exits by the end of the third quarter.

The victory was an object lesson in culture-building.

The Gators seized the football game with commitment, urgency and buy-in — at least for one evening — to Mullen’s mantra and command that Florida play with “relentless effort” in all three phases.

The effort and focus started with Tommy Townsend’s first punt, which pinned the Volunteers inside their own 10-yard line on their first possession. The field position victory gave Todd Grantham’s new-look Gators defense a chance to be aggressive, and the unit took full advantage.

On a third-and-long for Tennessee, Jachai Polite beat his man inside and got to Jarrett Guarantano, hitting the Vols quarterback as he was releasing the football. David Reese, the All-SEC linebacker who missed Florida’s first three games with an injury, caught the ensuing fumble in mid-air and Florida scored a few plays later, taking an all-important early lead and quieting the raucous Tennessee crowd.

Grantham’s defense would force another turnover on the following possession with a beautiful bait-and- switch from defensive lineman Luke Ancrum on a screen pass, resulting in a Guarantano interception and another Florida possession in the red zone. The Gators cashed in on that turnover, too, and before you could get through all the verses of Rocky Top, Florida led 14-0.

The lead would swell to 23-3 when Florida made the play of the game, one that will surely make Florida’s end-of-the-year highlight video and one Florida fans likely will remember as setting the foundation for the Mullen era.

Trying to fire up his team and energize the building when trailing 23-3, first-year Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt elected to have Tennessee go for it on fourth-and-1 inside Volunteer territory.

For a moment, it looked as if Volunteer offensive coordinator Tyson Helton had dialed up the perfect play, a play-action flair concept intended for tight end Austin Pope down the left sideline.

Pope caught the ball with acres of space to run and took off for the checkerboard end zone, set to score a touchdown that would flip the momentum and get the crowd back in the game. To everyone watching at home, listening on the radio or sitting in Neyland Stadium, the play sounded and looked like a certain Tennessee touchdown.

Instead, Florida cornerback C.J. Henderson never gave up on the play, pursuing and catching up to Pope inside the 10-yard line and tackling him near the 5. As Henderson made the tackle, he forced the ball out of Pope’s hands and the fumble went through the end zone for a touchback and turnover.

Just like that, Henderson had snuffed out Tennessee’s momentum-changing play.

It was the perfect visual of relentless effort in one play. It was, on a night that was a referendum on the state of two rebuilds, an impressive sign of how Mullen is reconstructing and starting the process of building a successful culture in Gainesville.

There were signs of culture change in all three phases.

Townsend’s punting dictated field position all night, easing the burden on Florida’s defense in the second and third quarters when the Gators offense went stagnant. Florida’s kick and punt coverage teams, among the worst in college football a year ago, was masterful all evening, even forcing a turnover in the second half, and Evan McPherson continues to be near-perfect in the kicking game.

Offensively, Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks wasn’t great, but he produced four touchdowns anyway and continues to protect the football, a sign that he’s heeding his coach’s command to make the smart and safe decision first.

What’s more, Franks showed his growth as a progression-reader and his poise in a tough environment stood out in helping Florida conquer the Vols. On Florida’s best offensive play of the night, Franks was flushed from the pocket and still read the field and found Freddie Swain, who continued his star turn by galloping 65-yards down the sideline for a touchdown.

Florida running back Jordan Scarlett got in the act, too, running hard all night and making decisive cuts to hit seams faster, an immense improvement from the first three weeks of the season. His 19-yard touchdown run through four tacklers early in the third quarter put to bed any hopes of a Volunteer comeback and set the tone for Florida’s effort and consistency in the second half.

All told, the effort was good enough for a crucial SEC road victory, one that Florida had to have ahead of a trip to Starkville, Miss., and a home game with suddenly powerful LSU. Most important, the win showed a Florida program that’s  finally committed to Dan Mullen and his mantras, one willing to commit to the effort needed to be successful and lay a foundation for the road ahead.

It will get harder, of course. A four-touchdown victory over a middling, rebuilding Tennessee team doesn’t mean Florida is back. Not yet.

But we saw the ingredients for getting back Saturday night.

Florida may not always make the catch, collect the first down, break up the pass or finish the tackle. But they won’t fail because of a lack of effort. They won’t fail because they aren’t invested in winning.

Midway through the fourth quarter, as Florida’s backups gained valuable game reps, it was hard not to hear and notice the chants of “It’s great to be a Florida Gator” raining down from blue-clad rafters of Neyland Stadium.

It’s been a while since that cheer was heard much of anywhere at a football game Florida played on the road, let alone in one of college football’s great cathedrals.

It was a reminder, ever so briefly, of Florida’s glorious past, which seemed fitting on a night that made a foundational statement about the hope for Florida’s future.