GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tennessee head coach Butch Jones talks about his team's will to win and on Saturday in The Swamp for the fourth consecutive matchup in the series, the Vols' will to win wasn't a debate.
Neither was their talent in the matchup. Their will wasn't flawless, but it was good enough. However, their execution, especially in critical plays, was far from it.
You don't throw three interceptions, including a pick six, miss three field goals, give up a Hail Mary and win football games. Yet up until the Hail Mary, the Vols were poised to still win because of their effort and will for victory. Justin Martin gave Tennessee a chance on a strip fumble that resulted in a touchback. John Kelly repeatedly refused to go down. But when it was time to stand tall, the Vols offense couldn't.
A couple of Hall of Fame coaches who made this rivalry a national game always said you don't kick field goals in this matchup and win. Tennessee obviously missed 3 of 4 field goal attempts, which was key. They gave up a Hail Mary which should never happen. You don't play that snap with six in the box and only five defensive backs.
Butch Jones said after the game that injuries prevented them from going with six defensive backs. They Vols were without Evan Berry and Todd Kelly, Jr., but surely on that sideline they could have found a “knock it down guy”.
With :09 seconds to go, Florida needed at least 25 yards to think about a legitimate field goal try and you never put yourself in a position to allow a receiver to get behind the defense. A lesson that should have been learned last year in Athens, Georgia.
That play will be long discussed on both sides of the rivalry for years, but for Tennessee, it's about the coming weeks and a schedule that's going to get harder.
Better offenses are coming for the Vols to defend and so are better defenses. Tennessee must make vast improvements across the board. The biggest offensively is in the redzone.
Coming into the game, Tennessee was 8-of-9 in the redzone with eight touchdowns. On Saturday, the Vols held the football inside the 20-yard line 13 times.
And it was frankly 13 disasters.
Of the 13 snaps, the Vols chose to only run it one time. It netted minus-1 yards. Quarterback Quinten Dormady was 1-of-7 for minus-1 yard and an interception. The other five snaps inside the 20 were penalties with two holds and three false starts.
AP Photo/John Raoux
For Larry Scott and the offense, a reboot is needed in their red zone package. Yes, on two of those incompletions the receiver was open. A pass went just off the hands of Josh Palmer and a ball thrown short to John Kelly. But only one rush to Kelly, who was the games best player on the field Saturday? Against Georgia Tech, the offensive had nine snaps at the 20-yard line or closer, and Kelly touched it on six of them and scored four touchdowns.
Against Indiana State, Tennessee had 10 snaps from the 20-yard line and in and the threw it six times.
The lack of Kelly in the scoring zone makes no sense.
The redzone is about playmakers making a play. It's about winning your 1-on-1 matchups, as the head coach likes to say.
For that to be a possibility you have to do a couple of things. One you can't be penalized five times. The discipline has to be better. Two, you have to get the ball to the guy who has the best chance to win that match-up. That guy is John Kelly.
The junior from Detriot was terrific Saturday, but unfortunately for the Vols, he was MIA too many times near the goal line.
It's a very painful lesson to learn in a loss.
The lesson is lean on your best and your best is John Kelly. And it's a lesson Tennessee must learn immediately because the road in the SEC is not going to get any easier.