Tennessee was the better team on Saturday, but in familiar Tennessee fashion, they couldn’t pull off the victory.
The Vol’s performance mirrored that of an ill-prepared college kid about to take his midterm exam. They were erratic, rushed, confused, and in the end they couldn’t muster enough power to finish the task at hand.
The loss was caused by poor decisions from the coaching staff to the players themselves. There is not one area of the team that will not be held responsible, as it was a team effort to lose this game.
Where to start? The offense got off to a slow start yet again, which is really starting to become an irritating aspect of the team over the last two years. The Vols only managed five possessions in the first half. They combined for 138 total yards, one turnover, two punts and a field goal.
Receivers ran bad routes, Dormady made careless throws, and other than running back John Kelly, the running game was almost non-existent.
Kelly had less than 10 carries in the first half again. This is becoming a disturbing trend. Kelly is an excellent back and can break a game open at any point, but why are the Vols refusing to run him early? Why not get him in a rhythm and let quarterback Quinten Dormady run some play-actions and RPO’s to keep the defense honest?
The fact that the Vols seem hell-bent on breaking Dormady in early is not only an issue of refusing to use your best player, but at this point it is almost like trying the square peg/round hole scenario.
Just look at the ratios of pass attempts to Kelly’s runs. It is alarming, to say the least.
In the first three games the Vols have averaged over 18 pass attempts in the first half, while only running Kelly around eight times in the first half.
That is usually not the formula you want when breaking in a new quarterback. Just add this dilemma to the growing list of concerns within the program.
The second half wasn’t any better at all. Tennessee continued their rut and had five straight drives that ended in either a turnover, a punt, or a missed field goal to start the half.
The offense didn’t wake up until the fourth quarter, but by then it was too late. Even when they had the chance to take the lead late in the game, Kelly couldn’t corral a pass that was behind him - but definitely catchable - to walk into the end zone untouched and put the Vols up, 23-20.
Butch said today that UT practiced this play against Florida's cover zero all week. But the offense can't quite execute. #RTIFilmStudy pic.twitter.com/BRh36SJS3y— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) September 18, 2017
Overall, it was the worst offensive performance of the season that left us with more questions than answers. The only player this offense can bank on is Kelly and that won’t hold up as the season progresses. The Vols must find more answers on offense if they want to win in the SEC.
Final Grade: 1.0 (D)
The biggest question heading into the showdown in The Swamp was how would the defense perform. For the most part, they answered the bell and looked better than they have all season long.
Granted, Florida was without their two best playmakers, but the Vols still held their own. They blitzed, they sacked the quarterback, and they made timely turnovers that helped keep them in the game.
Defensive back Justin Martin’s strip of Florida running back Malik Davis as he approached the goal line was a true show of heart and perseverance. For as much heat as Martin has taken this year, that play helped ease a lot of the resentment towards him.
Justin Martin hustles back and saves a sure touchdown! #TENNvsUF #VolNation pic.twitter.com/qXBX5BCmGr— Chat Sports (@ChatSports) September 16, 2017
The Vols defended the run well, despite Davis’s big 74-yard run. Take out that run and Tennessee held the Gators to just 3.36 yards per carry.
To see the marked improvement on defense was very encouraging, but injuries are starting to take their toll. Todd Kelly Jr. is out for the season and the Vols also lost linebacker Cortez McDowell for the same amount of time after the game.
But as expected, we have to talk about the last play of the game. A busted coverage that saw Micah Abernathy allow receiver Tyrie Cleveland to get behind him to make one of the more memorable catches in college football history.
If they can stay healthy on the defensive side of the ball - which is a big if - then it seems as if the Vols are in decent hands on defense. The offense also really needs to start helping out and stop hanging the defense out to dry.
Hopefully there won’t be any more Hail Marys this season, either.
Final Grade: 3.0 (B) Grade
Usually the bedrock of the team, the special teams unit was a pretty big letdown this weekend.
Freshman kicker Brent Cimaglia got it going early, nailing a 51-yard field goal to make Butch Jones look like a genius for approaching the kicking game as he has. That did not last long though as things unraveled quickly.
Cimaglia would miss his next two attempts, one from beyond 50 yards and the other from 47 yards. Senior kicker Aaron Medley couldn’t take advantage of his opportunity either, missing his only attempt from 44 yards.
Receiver Marquez Callaway had an electrifying 29-yard punt return, but Tennessee could not capitalize and missed the field goal attempt.
Senior Trevor Daniel had a good day, but the kicking game woes not only helped cost Tennessee the game, but were bad enough to make the stellar unit seem just average.
Final Grade: 2.0 (C)
I think we all know how this is going to turn out, but let’s revisit the everlasting hell this coaching staff put us through on Saturday.
Not only was there evidence of a lack of preparation for the game, but the play calling was just absolutely horrendous.
I don’t need to go into the exact details, but the fact that the Vols had the ball for seven plays inside of Florida’s ten yard and line and decided to throw the ball on every down speaks for itself.
There’s also the sequence of events where the Vols faced a 3rd and 2 from the Florida 17. Tennessee decides to call a pass play, even though Tennessee just ran the ball twice before and gained over five yards per carry.
Subsequently, the Gators blitz and the Vols are called for a holding penalty. Now, it’s 3rd and 12 from the Gator 27.
Jones and offensive coordinator Larry Scott then decide to call a drop-back pass play in which Dormady is sacked for a loss of six yards.
4th and forever from the Gator 33. What a wasted opportunity.
Cimaglia would go on to attempt a 51-yarder and miss. UT had the opportunity to pound the ball and get a first down, but instead tried to be cute and left points off the board.
And to add the insult to injury, Jones’s excuse for allowing the Hail Mary to succeed was this awful, illogical statement:
Butch on final play: "We were in a nickel. But with injuries, we didn’t have a dime."— @GrantRamey (@GrantRamey) September 17, 2017
At the end of the day, I can’t even say they had us in a position to win, because we still lost due to bad coaching.
From a coaching standpoint, this was a travesty and Jones’s worst coached game of his tenure. I haven’t even covered the part about backup quarterback Jarrett Guarantano not being prepared to play under center - which is just more toppings of absurdity to add to the is-this-real-life sundae.
It’s now up to Jones and his staff to save the season, and them alone. If there are more games lost in this fashion, it’s hard to say if they will be around in 2018.
Final Grade: 0.5 (F)
Overall Grade For Week 3: 1.63 (D)
Even if Tennessee pulled out a victory here, there still would have been a lot left to desire and many questions about the capabilities of this team. Right now they are plagued by slow starts, mistakes, bad defense, and bad coaching - a formula that spells nothing but disaster.
The Vols get a much needed breather this week in UMass, but they desperately need to figure things out before their showdown with Georgia in two weeks.