Season over for Vols or improvement to come?
Season over after Vols fall to no. 19 Gators?
Sunday’s game against Tennessee’s most hated rival, no. 19 Florida Gators, resulted in a Tennessee loss and brought the Vols to a record of (2-2) and now (0-1) in SEC play. Many key factors lead to the downfall of the game today for Tennessee and have left questions on where the team stands up in the air.
Tennessee started the game off with a 7-0 pick-six. This seemed to give the Vols the edge they needed to actually upset the Gators in Sunday’s game at the Swamp. It resembles last weeks blow out loss to Oregon; Tennessee started out with a great drive and put seven up on the board to lead the Ducks in an away game. The same happened here today; Tennessee put up seven on the board and things were hopeful. Then it was just downhill from there.
Tennessee opted to start redshirt Freshman, Nathan Peterman against the Gators instead of junior Justin Worley who started the last three games. This switch was an attempt to give the Vols a spark on offense that they desperately needed at the QB position. Well…, it backfired.
Tennessee had an abysmal first half passing the ball and Peterman went 4-11 for 5 total passing yards and 2 interceptions. This was not the spark or source of offense that Tennessee was hoping for coming into today’s tough match up. Eventually, regular starter, Worley came in to relieve the struggling freshman QB. He looked good to start the third quarter, leading drives and standing tall in the pocket. Worley capped the 89 yard drive with a touchdown. Unfortunately, he threw two picks nearing the end of the 4th that killed any momentum Tennessee gained in his previous TD drive.
All in all, Tennessee’s attempts to find some level of consistency and poise, either at the start or down the stretch out of both QBs today backfired. This will likely be the main issue addressed this week for the offense.
Tennessee had troubles on the offensive line against a very energetic and aggressive Florida front seven. The Florida DE’s were having their way with the Tennessee’s offensive line, and if the Gator line didn’t get to the ball carrier first, their linebackers were there applying pressure and blowing up the backfield. Today was a rocky day for the offense in every phase.
Gator’s starting QB, Jeff Driskel, left the game early on with an ankle injury, and was ruled out for the rest of the season. In response to this, Florida called upon junior quarterback, Tyler Murphy. At Florida, Murphy had never taken a snap in his collegiate career and now he was starting against a very solid Tennessee defense. Murphy went 8-14 for 134 yards and a touchdown as well as rushing for an additional 84 yards with a touchdown. The 2nd string QB, whom had never touched the ball was leading drives, juking tacklers, and taking control of his struggling Gator offense that desperately needed play makers. This Tennessee defense coming into today’s game was first in red-zone defense and first in takeaways in the SEC. Tennessee’s performance, although started impressive with a pick-six, looked completely inexperienced and exhausted the entire game. Their sluggish play showed and missed tackles were appearing on almost every defensive play for the Vols. But the most embarrassing issue for this defense, is that they couldn’t even contain a QB that had never previously touched the football in his entire collegiate career.
This was not the showing that was widely predicted by many, prior to today’s game. Simply put, UT’s offensive passing game was terrible, the offensive line was shaky and unable to gain any ground against a quality Florida front seven, and UT struggled containing the interim Gator QB in his first ever collegiate game. But this is not the end of the Tennessee’s season. They fought to the very end today against a very deserving Gator team. After a Gator missed field goal with just over 3 minutes to go, head coach Butch Jones was firing up his players on the sideline and the Vols were successful in gaining some big pass plays near the end of the game.
Sunday wasn’t the greatest performance by the Vols but it isn’t the end of their season as a whole. The Vols should put a hard two weeks behind them, and hit practice hard this week and get back to playing football the true Big Orange way. The Vols have some work to do, especially with this tough October ahead, but they have the talent and will to come back from this, and coach Jones, I know, will do everything in his power to make sure that happens.
Despite loss, Vols show improvement
In back to back weeks, Tennessee faced one of the nation’s fastest offenses, and one of the most ferocious defenses in the SEC. After the humiliating defeat at Oregon, there was nowhere for the football team to go except for up. Tennessee proved at Florida that they have done exactly that.
Let’s start on defense. Although the offense we played was nowhere near the caliber of Oregon’s and lost their starting quarterback just a few minutes into the game, the defense still only had one penalty (which was declined), forced turnovers (scored on one), and primarily kept Tennessee in the game a lot longer than they did against Oregon. The key here is keeping the team alive. Tennessee’s defense did their job as best they could, and gave the offense many chances to either take chunks out of the Gator’s lead or take the lead in some cases. Although the defense has improved, they are still miles behind where they need to be to compete every week in the SEC.
The first quarter was a disaster for Tennessee and Florida. Coming into the game Tennessee believed a change in quarterback would improve our offense, that was obviously not the case. A few turnovers and an injured throwing hand later, and Worley is back in as quarterback. You might be wondering where the improvement was in the offense. The improvement wasn’t a quantifiable number that could be jotted down, the improvement was mental toughness.
Butch Jones preaches mental toughness, and I think this game started to show the fruits of his labor. Against Oregon, the Vols fell so far behind so fast, that the players seemed borderline apathetic. Against Florida, however, you could see that even a missed field goal with 2:49 left in regulation, the team was still inspired to win the game. Even with 0:16 left in the game, the offense believed they could make magic happen. Even though they had a strong showing of mental toughness, there is still the reality of turnovers, dropped passes, and getting dominated on the line of scrimmage. These things can’t all be fixed at once, and that is where Jones’ “brick by brick” ideology comes into play. Every week the team will improve, and work really hard to bring Tennessee back to prominence.
I have seen a leap in improvement for this team in comparing the Oregon and Florida matchups. Mainly in mental toughness, that mental toughness is something precious that could very well come in handy later on in the year when Tennessee plays as the underdog. Tennessee will now look to improve even more this week, and prepare for their next game against South Alabama in Knoxville.
Edited by: Will Lomas