This is one of the least defensible losses I can remember.
We knew Tennessee would have a special opportunity today against a Florida team in a bad place. Whether or not Florida is a bad football team we don't know yet, because good, bad, or in between they all have beaten Tennessee in the last ten years. But today wasn't about one team playing above their heads, rallying together and beating the odds. This was about Tennessee having every single opportunity to put the game away, and botching every single one of them.
It was a golden opportunity coming in, refined by the play of the Tennessee defense. Don't chase the false narrative about the backup quarterback. The Gators had 232 yards in 75 plays. Their lone touchdown came on a 30 yard drive, and their other points came on a 49 yard field goal. The Vol defense was outstanding today, and whether Florida's offense represented a real threat or not we've seen enough from them this season to know they're going to give us a chance every week.
It was those chances that will hurt for so many days after this one. Down 3-0 at halftime, Florida threw an interception on the first play of the second half. Tennessee had 1st and 10 on the Florida 13. The floodgates were waiting. Instead, Justin Worley threw a back foot interception on a hero throw, his third pick in the end zone this season and at least the fifth of his career (South Alabama last year, South Carolina as a freshman are the two I remember).
Two drives later Todd Kelly, Jr picked off Driskel and the Vols had 1st and 10 at the Florida 17. Tennessee went incomplete, loss of three, incomplete. A field goal made it 6-0.
On the next drive, Worley hit Jonathan Johnson on a well-designed play for 27 yards. Tennessee had 1st and 10 at the Florida 13. We went no gain, loss of one, sack.
In the moment we were happy to have the two possession lead, but in the final analysis? My goodness, what more could you ask for? What's more valuable than gold? Were these platinum opportunities? Diamond opportunities? Plutonium opportunities, because they blew up spectacularly in our faces?
The Gators were on the ropes when they walked into Knoxville, repeatedly left their guard down and almost invited Tennessee to knock them out. But no, no, and no three times in the red zone in the third quarter.
Who gets the blame for this? Justin Worley is my boy, and he made big plays on 3rd and 10 and 4th and 10 on the final drive before he threw a terrible interception. Both of his interceptions came on first down on balls he absolutely should not have thrown. Sometimes you just have to live to play another down.
Mike Bajakian? Lots of diversity of opinion on him at the moment, but we shouldn't forget how good the Tennessee offense looked last week at Georgia.
Is it oversimplification to say the offensive line is still the largest percentage of Tennessee's problems, including the red zone nonsense today? Florida's sack/fumble on Worley that set up their only touchdown didn't even bother me that much in the moment, because with this young line you just expect bad things to happen every now and then.
I think it is absolutely oversimplification to just shake your head and say, "youth". Not when the reality is Tennessee has just as many reasons to be 2-0 in SEC play, if not more, than it does to be 0-2. Last week it was fumbles at the worst possible time. It happens. But this was seven snaps in the red zone and the best result was zero yards.
Of course, ultimately it all falls at the feet of Butch Jones. And what Butch will discover is this is a loss that will stay with him until he can lead the Vols out of it. Tennessee can easily still earn bowl eligibility, and will almost certainly beat a better opponent than the one we saw today if they get there. But what Butch will also discover, if he doesn't know already, is that beating Ole Miss, South Carolina, or Missouri isn't the same as beating Florida. Especially after a decade. Especially against a Florida team so fragile. Especially on a day like today.
And Tennessee didn't get it done, and has no one to blame but itself.
Butch's message on the postgame show was, "Keep grinding." And we will. The whole year will probably be every bit the grind we thought it would. But good grief, that grind would have and should have been so much easier with a win today. Tennessee didn't get it done. And this program will continue to carry that weight until it does.