Following the Tennessee Volunteers’ 29-16 loss to the Florida Gators, the list of things that needs to be addressed and corrected is ridiculously long.
The offensive line was overwhelmed in both the run game and in pass protection. The offensive game plan was a little bit more conservative than what we’ve been used to seeing from a Josh Heupel-led team. Joe Milton wasn’t the reason the Vols lost, but he didn’t play with poise - as evidenced by the inexplicable lollipop interception - and looked indecisive at times with the ball in his hands. The lack of focus and poise as a team overall with needless pre-snap penalties on both sides of the ball was maddening.
Those are all frustrating. But it was the absolute lack of fundamentals on the defensive side of the ball that were the most worrisome and are the most problematic for Tennessee if they want to have any kind of decent follow up to the success from 2022. More specifically in run support and tackling.
Kamal Hadden’s alleged attempt at a tackle is one of the worst you will ever see a college football player make. Everyone’s seen that replay at this point. But it really was a microcosm for the first half of football played in Gainesville last Saturday night.
I don’t need to explain it. Josh Heupel and Tim Banks both acknowledged it this week. Heupel talked about poor fundamentals and, far worse, a lack of effort regarding tackling issues. If you can’t get up to knock heads against the Gators, then I don’t know when you can.
Regardless, that’s easily the thing I want to see fixed first and foremost this week, and UT-San Antonio will provide an opportunity to do that. QB Frank Harris is a game time decision, and even if he plays, you have to think the UTSA coaches are going to try to pound the Vols with the run early and often. UTSA has run the ball (111 attempts) more than they’ve thrown it (101 attempts) this year, and they’ve had modest success on the ground with 162.3 yards per game.
If Tennessee can dominate the line of scrimmage with their front, make some plays in the backfield, wrap up and force more third-and-long situations than they did last week, then I’ll start to feel better about this team once conference play gets underway in earnest next week. The offense will be better than it was against Florida. There’s still enough talent on the roster to score enough to win plenty of games - albeit not at the level of last year.
However, if Tennessee’s defensive issues with discipline, tackling, and fundamentals don’t improve, then it won’t matter much how the offense looks. That improvement needs to begin on Saturday.