Tennessee lost to Florida, in Gainesville, again Saturday, and fans saw multiple weaknesses of this team exposed. And no, it’s not just Joe Milton’s erratic arm, and the offense being out of sync.
Per Pro Football Focus, Vols’ QB Joe Milton dropped back to pass 37 times, had an average of 2.58 seconds to throw the football, was sacked two or three times — depending on which statistical site you look at — , was hurried eight times and pressured 12 times.
RBs Jaylen Wright (81.6) and Jabari Small (80.3) graded out as UT’s best pass blockers (obviously in more limited opportunities) for the game, while offensive guard Ardrej Karic graded out third (76.1). The only other Vol OL to grade out in the 70s in pass blocking who played a qualifying number of snaps was Ollie Lane at 72.5.
John Campbell and Jeremiah Crawford had poor performances, allowing a combined two sacks, six hurries and eight pressures. Crawford graded out as the worst pass blocker on the team at 26.6. I wouldn’t know, but that’s gotta be some kind of record.
So, while Milton ended the game 20-34 (or 37, depending on the site) for two TDs and one bad-decision interception, I think we all need to stop pointing fingers at Milton and realize the offensive line has very little cohesion and doesn’t allow him the time he needs to make his throws, inconsistent as they may be.
Then defensively... goodness they were bad.
Kamal Hadden is... catching... a lot of flack for his inability to tackle, and rightfully so. He doesn’t wrap up — he just tries to throw his shoulder into people, and he gets shrugged off. That sort of play allowed at least one TD. But he is certainly not the only defensive Vol who played poorly. Jaylen McCollough, Juedy-Lolly, Elijah Herring, Tamarion McDonald and Rickey Gibson all got charged with one missed tackle, while Hadden and Wesley Walker were dinged for three misses each. As bad as the run defense was, the pass defense wasn’t any better:
- Aaron Beasley: five targets, five receptions allowed for 43 yards
- Tamarion McDonald: four targets, four receptions allowed for 43 yards
- Gabe Jeudy-Lally: four targets, three receptions allowed for 15 yards
- Elijah Herring: two targets, one reception allowed for 6 yards
- Kamal Hadden: two targets, one reception allowed for 11 yards
- Jaylen McCollough: two targets, one reception allowed for 12 yards
McDonald was the worst on the team, allowing 39 yards after the catch, while Beasley was next at 31 yards. No Tennessee player had a pass broken up.
Altogether, the defense let Mertz go 19-24 with 166 yards and one TD, while Trevor Etienne ran over, around and through UT defenders for 172 yards and one TD on 23 carries.
In 42 run-play snaps, Wesley Walker made two tackles and graded out as the worst run defender on the team at 45.4. As mentioned earlier, Kamal Hadden was the only other Vol with more than one missed tackle — PFF charts him at three but I’m not entirely sure about the accuracy of that number. It looked like he missed at least four of five, but I turned the game off early, so, yeah.
See for yourself:
Kamal Hadden #5 in 22 & 23 Florida games. What bothers me is the lack of effort do you not understand what you are playing for? I would have given my life for that opportunity & he just plays so weak & scared. pic.twitter.com/EyBg8ROlvg— GO VOLS (@SMITHVFL77) September 17, 2023
Hadden graded out just higher than Walker in terms of run defense, per PFF, with a 31.2 figure. Woo-hoo.
We’ve got a few years of tape now on the defensive backs not being able to tackle. That absolutely has to be addressed, or teams will continue to dink-and-dunk us to death, until a defensive back doesn’t wrap up and what should have been a 5-yard gain will turn into six points.
In fact, the defensive game plan early was a bit perplexing — forgive me, I’m going off memory I refuse to re-watch the game — but it seemed like we were playing the UF offense and Graham Mertz like he was going to beat us down the field with deep shots. Why? The blueprint is out there on how to attack our defense, so why sit back and watch it happen?
I know the coaches are worried about their corners on islands by themselves, but it was pretty clear who the aggressor was, and it sure wasn’t us. This team doesn’t have the margin for error last year’s team did, so game plans and the execution of those game plans become all that more important.
Something else that’s troubling — some of Aaron Beasley’s remarks after the game.
Beasley had said that part of the problem against Florida is that the defense was undisciplined and didn’t execute. Then, as a follow-up, somebody asked if he was surprised, given the way the fall camp went (around the 30-second mark). His answer:
“Um, no sir.”
I’m not even sure how to interpret the answer. Maybe he misunderstood the follow-up question, or maybe a veteran team leader watched fall camp and expected these sorts of performances. If it’s the latter, that’s bad. Real bad.
I’m all for continuity, but if Banks can’t game plan, and Martinez can’t coach tackling, what do you do?
There’s a chance this team handles business against UTSA, and then gets revenge on South Carolina, but my 8-4 prediction for the season seems a bit optimistic after what we saw in the Swamp Saturday.