GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Just when you think Tennessee couldn't possibly find another way to shockingly lose one in The Swamp, the Vols surprise you. Here are four quick takes on today's stunning 26-20 loss.
1 — Third quarter — Depending on your perspective, the third quarter was either a comedy of errors or a tragedy. Tennessee spent all but three offensive snaps in the quarter inside Florida territory and came up with zero points.
Everyone is going to remember the frantic fourth quarter, and the inexplicable last play of the game, but the Vols set themselves up for failure with the first 15 minutes after halftime.
The Vols botched an absolutely golden opportunity after the defense came up with a huge fumble to put the offense in business on Florida’s 49-yard line.
A Herculean effort from Marques Callaway to convert a 3rd and 20 with a superb run after the catch set the Vols up on the doorstep at the Gators’ 1-yard line.
The Vols shot themselves in the foot with a penalty that backed them up to the six, and then Quinten Dormady threw a disastrous interception when he tried to force a throw into a tight spot.
Failing to punch it in there for a touchdown would have been bad but tying the game up with a field goal would have been highly acceptable. Turning the ball over in that spot, down three, inside the opponent’s 10 yard was just egregious and arguably cost Tennessee it’s third win in Gainesville this century.
It’s also going to be a point of contention among many fans for Tennessee decades.
Tennessee had another chance after a 29-yard punt return from Marquez Callaway put the Vols in business at the Gators’ 36-yard line. Two runs from Ty Chandler gave the Vols a first down at the Florida 25.
Two plays later, on third and two, the Vols lined up under center for the first time all day, tried some sort of pass play out of a ‘heavy’ formation that had a lot of moving parts, and saw little used tight end Austin Pope called for holding, pushing the Vols back to the 27.
Dormady was sacked on the next play, leading Butch Jones to call on freshman Brent Cimaglia to attempt a 51 yard field goal, which he missed.
So, to recap. On consecutive series the Vols had first and goal at the one and first and 10 at the 25 and got zero points.
2 — Quarterback play — We don’t ever like to be critical of individuals in this space, but given the nature of the position, you can’t hide from a performance like that one today.
Dormady finished the day 21-of-39 for 259 yards and one touchdown. He threw three interceptions, two of which cost the Vols at least 10 points. Dormady didn’t have to be great today, not against a Florida offense that looks like it will struggle all year, but he had to take care of the football. It was critical, and he didn’t.
After throwing one pick and losing a fumble last week against Indiana State, it’s safe to assume ball security was something Tennessee quarterbacks heard a good deal about this week on the practice field.
The most perplexing thing about the three interceptions is that from my perspective, all were a result of operator error and were avoidable.
The first one came early in the game with the Vols driving and on the edge field goal range at the Florida 34. Faced with some pressure, Dormady tried to force one into a tightly covered Ty Chandler only to see Florida’s David Reese come up with the pick.
We’ve covered the second one on the Gators’ goal line pretty well, which Duke Dawson came up with after Dormady tried to force feed the ball to Josh Palmer on a short throw over the middle.
The third and final pick was a killer. It was a straight overthrow to an open Marquez Callway on a short hook route. Callaway made a heck of a play to even leap and get his hands on it, but couldn’t control it and CJ Henderson snagged it and scurried in for a 16-yard touchdown.
Interceptions are bad enough in their own right but when they take points away from your team and hand them to the opposition, it’s as bad as it gets.
Dormady bounced back and showed some moxie in the fourth quarter, but the earlier mistakes had already put the Vols in a hole.
3 — Defense — Let’s be clear, the final play was just inexcusable, especially coming off a timeout. Just brutally inefficient defensive football at its finest.
It’s a little bit like the old, ‘other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?’ saying, but Tennessee’s defense was a big reason the Vols were hanging around with a chance to win late after a rather atrocious offensive afternoon.
First and foremost, Bob Shoop’s guys created three crucial turnovers, none bigger than the tipped ball interception Rashaan Gaulden came up with with just under 5:00 left in the game that put Tennessee in business on the Gators’ end of the feild with a chance to win or tie.
Two big fourth quarter runs (one of which the Vols forced a fumble on) hurt the stats, but for much of the day the Vols’ defense handled Florida with ease.
Entering the fourth quarter, Florida had just 191 yards of total offense and 72 yards rushing. The front seven did a pretty good job of getting after Felipe Franks all afternoon, sacking him twice and putting heat on him numerous other times.
Tennessee still hurt itself with some missed tackles, but overall this unit played good enough to win.
On an individual level, I thought Kyle Phillips flashed, getting into the backfield and affecting Franks’ throws on a couple of different occasions in the first half. He’s got some momentum right now.
Nigel Warrior seems like he’s starting to turn into the player many thought he would, playing with a physical bent and some obvious confidence today.
Quart'e Sapp finally got on the field for some meaningful work in the first half and made the most of it. He had six tackles and was around the ball a lot more than that. I’d be stunned if Sapp doesn’t play more going forward.
4 — John Kelly & Marquez Callaway — Butch Jones talked a great deal in the preseason about the need to find playmakers. Well, he’s found at least two of the high-level, SEC variety in John Kelly and Marquez Callaway.
For my money, they were the best skill position players on the field today and it didn’t look particularly close.
We were all expecting big things out of Kelly this fall, but he’s been better than I expected. Today was one of the more impressive efforts I’ve seen out of a Tennessee tailback period. He was a monster finishing with 141 yards on 19 carries and added 96 yards receiving on six catches.
He repeatedly made defenders miss in the open field, seemed to find space where none existed and in general bedeviled Florida for most of the second half.
The numbers don’t do his day justice though. Not the biggest back in the world at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds, Kelly is an animal. He never shies away from contact and seems to relish the chance to punish defenders when the opportunity arises.
Put me down as someone who firmly believes Kelly’s attitude and enthusiasm helped to fuel the Vols’ 4th quarter rally when all looked lost.
As for Callaway, this kid is showing up when the lights are bright. His first catch in SEC action was a thing of beauty, going up high to snatch a back shoulder fade along the sidelines.
His catch and run to convert a third and 19 was just a big-time play against the speed Florida puts on the field on defense.
Later he added a 29-yard punt return that put the Vols in scoring position.
Callaway is showing up in big spots and making big plays and he’s only going to get better.