The last two weeks — one loss, one win — Tennessee’s had an issue playing at the same competitive level through four quarters.
Florida absolutely decimated the Vols in the second quarter two weeks ago, scoring 20 unanswered points on three drives of four plays and 75 yards, 14 plays and 82 yards and a seven-play, 55-yard that left two-ish minutes on the clock before halftime.
While Florida was marching up and down the field, Tennessee’s offense fizzled. The Vols notched drives of two plays for minus-two yards, three plays for minus-five yards and a final drive with time on the clock that went 24 yards on six plays. Those possessions ended in two punts and an interception.
Then last week, against an inferior opponent, UT did a lot of good things. It started fast (scoring two TDs in the first quarter for the first time this season), hit some big plays, ran the ball well (four runs of 40-plus yards) and created two turnovers. It had 5 penalties for 40 yards after a combined 20 penalties for 167 yards against UF and Austin Peay in the two weeks prior.
Tennessee won, and it covered. Those are all positives.
But after halftime, UTSA came out and marched down the field for a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown-scoring drive. The Vols responded with a three-and-out. After the punt, UTSA ran three plays before backup QB Owen McCown hit Tykee Ogle-Kellogg for a 43-yard touchdown pass. UT got the ball back and punted again, with a six-play, 10-yard drive.
There are mitigating factors here — maybe Tennessee knew they had the game in the bag and just didn’t come out with the same intensity it did to start the game. That can’t happen next week. There was also the Joe Milton injury right before halftime that apparently looked worse than it was. From the sideline view, it looked like the staff had freshman QB Nico Iamaleava ready to go into the game.
Instead, Milton came running back out after the Vols got the ball back and essentially put himself back in the game. Or, at least, that’s how it looked from where I was sitting. Maybe I mistook what I saw, but it would have been nice to get Nico some reps there.
After Milton’s injury, he clearly wasn’t right, going 14-16 to start the game and 4-12 after the injury scare. So fingers crossed that he’s healed up and ready before the South Carolina game, because it looked like the injury affected his throwing. And if he’s not right, do we get to see plays like the opening play of the game against UTSA? The staff obviously wants to get him going in the run game, and I’d say that’s a good idea, considering at 6-5, 235, he hit 21-MPH on the 81-yard zone-read play to open the UTSA game:
I’ve digressed some, but Tennessee is likely going to struggle against South Carolina if it doesn’t bring it for all four quarters. There should be no need for any extra motivation, as anybody on the team last year should be coming for blood after the 63-38 loss that took the Vols out of the College Football Playoff chase last season.