Four Quick Takeaways: Tennessee Falls Flat Against Florida

Four Quick Takeaways: Tennessee Falls Flat Against Florida

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A Florida football team predicted to miss a bowl game out coached, out manned and out played Tennessee for 60 minutes Saturday night.

Even the most ambitious Gator fans didn’t predict the whomping Billy Napier’s second Florida team gave Josh Heupel and the Vols as Tennessee added a new chapter to its horror stories at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Here’s four quick takeaways as Tennessee dropped its SEC opener 29-16.

More From RTI: Drive-By-Drive Summary Of Tennessee’s Loss At Florida

Twenty Six Straight For Florida In The First Half

Things started swimmingly for Tennessee. The Vols blocked a Florida field goal and went 71 yards in six plays thanks to a pair of nice Joe Milton III passes.

It took a long time for anything else to go well for Tennessee.

Florida scored touchdowns on its next four drives which led to 26 unanswered points (blocked PAT and failed two-point try). The Vols had few answers for a Florida offense that looked horrific two weeks prior at Utah.

The Gators controlled the game on the ground, more on that in a moment, and quarterback Graham Mertz made plays on third down when he needed to. On the other end, Tennessee’s offense was dismal and gave its defense no time to rest.

Tennessee had four straight set of downs begin: false start, false start, false start and timeout. The crowd clearly had an effect on Tennessee and the Vols had no answers. After its first drive touchdown, Tennessee didn’t run a play on Florida’s side of the field until the second half.

It was a disastrous second quarter and Tennessee never recovered.

Florida Dominates The Line Of Scrimmage

Much of the talk surrounding this game all week was that whoever ran the ball better would win the game. Myself, and many others, thought Tennessee had the advantage along the line of scrimmage. Boy, were we mistaken.

Florida dominated both lines of scrimmage and ran the ball better against Tennessee than anyone has since the start of the 2022 season. The Gators averaged 6.1 yards per rush in the first half largely thanks to a 62-yard Trevor Etienne touchdown. The play included an abysmal tackling effort by Kamal Hadden— a common theme for the Vols’ defensive backs throughout the afternoon.

Tennessee’s pass rush success in the first two weeks looked like a mirage as the Vols’ faced their first real test. Tim Banks’ defense struggled to get home with four rushers and Tennessee’s edge rushers consistently lost contain as Graham Mertz escaped the pocket and made plays.

On the other side, Tennessee’s offensive line looked outmatched. The Vols ran the ball with modest success but Florida’s pass rush wreaked havoc on Tennessee and led to a crucial second quarter Milton interception.

In the end, Florida totaled 253 yards on the ground while Tennessee totaled 106.

Third Down Defense Struggles

Through two weeks it looked like Tennessee’s defense had taken another step forward after doing just that last year. But against Florida, the Vols defense reverted to their 2021 self with an inability to get off the field on third down.

The Gators were seven-of-eight on third down in the first half, converting third and short and third and long with ease. Florida submitted its will and ran the ball well on short yardage situations and Mertz frequently escaped the pocket and made plays on third-and-long.

Tennessee got third down stops while forcing three-and-outs on Florida’s first two drives of the first half and made the third down numbers look better (seven-of-13). But the Vols’ inability to get off the field on third down in the first half kept Tennessee from ever stopping the bleeding and making a game out of it.

Stalled Drives Derail Any Comeback Attempt

Tennessee’s offense had more success in the second half than it did in the first half and had opportunities to make it a game in the third quarter when its defense forced the previously mentioned three-and-outs.

The Vols’ first three drives of the second half totaled 124 yards but produced just three points.

The first drive also cost Tennessee two timeouts, hurting its comeback chances, including Heupel taking a timeout as Milton was unaware that the clock was running out. Tennessee didn’t convert after the timeout and the Vols settled for a field goal.

Tennessee’s next two Tennessee drives ended much more controversially. The Vols faced fourth-and-one at the Florida 17-yard line and were trying to go fast. One problem, the official kicked the ball and had to re-spot it allowing Florida time to substitute. The Gators stuffed the run and Tennessee came away scoreless.

The ensuing drive saw Tennessee on the move again. The Vols drew up a beautiful screen pass that moved Tennessee into scoring range. But the officials called a questionable blind side block on McCallan Castles, pushing Tennessee into second-and-27 instead.

Tennessee got into fourth-and-manageable but couldn’t convert. The Gators added a field goal on their next drive which made it a three-possession game in the fourth quarter and effectively ended the game.

Author: Ethan Moore