There’s many questions that need to be answered for the Tennessee Volunteers. The Vols stumbled to defeat in Gainesville Saturday afternoon. Questions about the quarterback position. Questions about coaching. The kicking game. And, of course, questions about giving up a 63-yard touchdown pass as time expires.
Those questions will be addressed this week. For now, we’ll answer the same questions we do every week. We grade out each Vols position group.
Tennessee Game Grades Florida Edition
Only a strong finish prevented the offense from getting a completely failing grade. The letdown was complete, save John Kelly. The statistics won’t reveal the depth of disappointment for Vol fans. The Vols led every meaningful statistical category. The Vols simply couldn’t finish on offense. An interception at the goal line. Two drives starting inside Florida territory that resulted in missed field goals. It’s simply too much for the Volunteer soul to recount all of the missed opportunities.
Larry Scott seemed to get into the grove in the second half, but the first half play callling was far too conservative with a clearly more talented unit on the field. The red zone play calling, especially in the first half, we very, very questionable.
Offensive Stat of the Game: 3 Interceptions. No explanation needed. Honorable mention: Five plays inside the six yard line with 0 yards.
For the third straight game, Quinten Dormady started ice cold. While Dormady finished the game strong, you simply cannot let a quality SEC team get three free quarters of football. Tennessee needed to come out and establish the vertical passing game and couldn’t get it done. Dormady wasn’t sharp early on, and it showed. In addition to his passing problems, he made two noticeable misreads on the read-option decision. Dormady took a horrible, horrible sack late in the first half as well that probably led to a missed field goal.
Dormady hasn’t presented himself as the athletic runner many thought he was. It’s time Tennessee considers a two-quarterback system. If you’re going to run a read option offense, you must have a quarterback who can get you critical yards in critical situations.
Running Backs: B
John Kelly had a terrific day on the field. Kelly ran for 141 yards and a touchdown and had 96 yards receiving. Kelly led the Volunteers in rushing and receiving. He ran hard and provided stability to a shaky offense. But Kelly made a key mental mistake celebrating his fourth quarter touchdown. The yardage allowed Florida’s offense to come back and add a score on its next possession. Let’s also not forget that while he played a heck of game, he also dropped the go-ahead, presumable winning touchdown pass with :30 to go. Ty Chandler looked good in relief of Kelly, as well.
The receiving corps had the worst day of any position group. One, if not two, of Dormady’s interceptions were a direct result of receiver mistakes. On multiple occasions there were two receivers in the same spot down field. A Dormady pass into the end zone in the first quarter saw two Vols receivers running right toward the Gator free safety. Its exponentially easier to cover the deep pass when the two deep receivers run right to you. The goal line interception was an inexcusable effort and decision by the wide out. Marquez Callaway continued to shine in key moments. However, the pick-six probably should have been caught. High, yes, but one you’ve got to get.
Offensive Line: C
The offensive line was able to win the line of scrimmage late in the game. That is a promising sign. But the line — much like their quarterback — took far too long to exert their influence. And the mistakes. The line had three — THREE — false starts inside the red zone during the game. Two of those looked like miscommunication at the center position. The false start on first and goal from the one in the first half was one of the many mind numbing moments for Vols fans. Jashon Robertson continues to adjust to the center position.
For a team that talks about “Details” in their team motto, the offensive line needs to take a few more notes.
Yes, 10 of Florida’s points came directly off of offensive mistakes. And yes, probably ten more were because of offensive ineptitude. But remember, Florida didn’t have an offensive touchdown yet this season. Tennessee’s defense played very well minus the first and last drives of the game. An object of fans’ ire for the past six games, you can’t blame this one on Bob Shoop.
Defensive Stat of the Game: Florida’s 63-yard game winning passing touchdown. I know its not a stat. But it’s about the only thing that mattered.
Defensive Line: B
The defensive line played a pretty solid game. Kyle Phillips had two nice plays, including a pass break up. Shy Tuttle was effective against the inside run. And Darrell Taylor had some nice plays from his end position. While getting close sometimes, the line did struggle to get any pressure on the young Florida quarterback with only a three man rush. And the ends struggled to set the edge on occasion.
The linebackers excelled in Shoop’s blitz packages, but were much less effective in run defense and pass coverage over the middle. Most notably, Colton Jumper. Jumper had a nice sack and a few good tackles early, but missed several tackles on the outside in the second half. Daniel Bituli also looked good early, but was largely quiet in the second half.
Defensive Backs: F
Other than the last play, the defensive backs earned a B-. Giving up a 63-yard touchdown pass with only :09 remaining is absolutely inexcuseable. It’s worse than giving up a Hail Mary. Micah Abernathy is a great player, but that’s going to stay with him for a long, long time. Of course, there should have been about three other defensive backs back there, but he’s the one that was there. It’s honestly not even worth writing about. Just
Special Teams: F- (As in “0”)
As much as Marquez Callaway tried to help the team out, the rest of the special teams completely tanked this test. This should have been a strength of the team. Instead, Tennessee missed three field goals and kicked a critical kickoff out of bounds giving Florida great field position. And after John Kelly’s unsportsmanlike penalty on his touchdown — when he needed the kickoff coverage to pick him up — they let Florida have another great field position start to a scoring drive. As General Neyland has told us for seventy years, special is where the game was won.
The team didn’t execute very well at all. And usually, I would grade the players on that. But at some point you have to start asking yourself why they aren’t executing. If Florida would have had better players and came in and earned the win on the field, that would be one thing. But this Florida loss was eerily similar to 2014 and 2015. Just horrible, gut-wrenching.
Butch Jones is not doing himself any favors with the fan base. With Georgia, Alabama, and LSU looming, as well as an improved South Carolina and Vanderbilt, the heat is now firmly on Jones.
It’s another disappointing season for Tennessee. The worst part is that we saw a glimpse of what Tennessee could be today. But it came too late. And it’s not nearly consistent enough. It’s now hard to see how Tennessee wins more than eight games this year. And a cap of eight wins after five seasons isn’t what fans will expect of Butch Jones.
Tennessee gets Massachusetts next week back in Knoxville. The Minutemen are 0-4 with no quality losses. Tennessee fans won’t focus on Massachusetts this week, however. The Vols will turn their attention to Georgia, which will come into Neyland Stadium in two weeks likely undefeated and the odds-on favorite to win the SEC East. It’ll be another test of Tennessee’s mettle. And another test of the Vol fans patience with what is becoming an under-performing program. How will they do in that test?
We’ll have to wait and see.
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