Tennessee may be the only team in history to win off a Hail Mary and lose off of one in the span of one year, but I’ll have to do some more research and get back to you on that one. So with that, let’s take a look at some position grades from the Vols’ heartbreaking loss in Gainesville, starting with the offense.
Dormady was under pressure for a lot of the game, and John Kelly had some holes, but created most of his yardage himself by breaking tackles. However, late in the game, the group gave Dormady just enough time to throw and allowed Kelly to hit holes he needed to put the Vols back in the game. Before the fourth quarter, though, the offense as a whole was atrocious and made some costly penalties throughout the game.
John Kelly led Tennessee in receiving with six receptions for 96 yards, so next up was Marquez Callaway with three receptions for 46 yards. Dormady made some bad throws, but freshman Josh Palmer dropped a touchdown pass on Tennessee’s trip to the one yard line, and wavered from a slant route that resulted in an interception on that same drive. Dormady didn’t have many options when he was given time by his offensive line, and with the exception of Callaway’s three receptions, had to rely on John Kelly and Ethan Wolf.
What else can you say about John Kelly? He proved he is the best player on Tennessee’s offense and one of the best running backs in the SEC. Kelly led the Vols in rushing (141 yards and 1 TD) and receiving (6 receptions for 96 yards) for 237 total yards and a touchdown. Ty Chandler also ran well when called upon. Kelly’s taunting penalty after his touchdown was costly, but were it not for him, Tennessee would not have been in this game at all.
Quinten Dormady was 21 for 39 with 259 yards and a touchdown, but added three interceptions — one on the goal line when Tennessee had an opportunity to take a 10-6 lead, and one deep in their own territory that resulted in a pick six. He missed several throws through the first three quarters, but to his credit, stayed composed to help bring Tennessee back into the game. His 28-yard touchdown to Ethan Wolf brought the Vols within three late in the game and was a beautifully thrown ball, but Dormady’s interceptions made the difference. Guarantano entered the game for one play when the Vols were on the goal line after Dormady was a bit shaken up, and Tennessee had a false start penalty that pushed them back five yards to the six.
This unit was the most criticized after Tennessee’s first two games, but put in a great performance, lining up right on the ball and putting pressure on Feleipe Franks all game long. Kongbo had seven tackles, Shy Tuttle’s return did wonders in clogging up the middle, and Darrell Taylor played well and had a fumble recovery. Many thought going in that this unit would be a reason for a Tennessee loss, but they were a bright spot for the Vols on Saturday.
Quart’e Sapp played a lot of minutes, and led the group with seven tackles. Daniel Bituli racked up five and was all over the place for Tennessee until he left the game. It is not known whether or not he suffered an injury. Colton Jumper had a good game as well, adding two tackles and a big sack that forced a punt. This group missed some tackles throughout, but overall had a solid performance, helping Bob Shoop’s defense to only allow one touchdown until the final play.
Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks was 18 for 28 with 212 yards and 2 TDs with 1 INT, however, the Vols’ secondary played pretty well up until the final play of the game. Justin Martin was picked on again and again, and at times it seemed as though the corners were lining up seven or more yards off of their receivers, giving way to much cushion for Florida to get close to the first down marker. They looked OK without senior leader Todd Kelly Jr. and we have yet to see anything of Shaq Wiggins, who was expected to come in and make a difference for Tennessee this year. We also saw what could be the hustle play of the year when Justin Martin chased down Malik Davis to punch the ball out the back of the end zone for a touchback, saving the Vols at that point. Rashaan Gaulden’s interception on a tipped ball put Tennessee in a position to win with less than five minutes left. The final play of the game may just be a result of a poor play call, but Tyrie Cleveland managed to get behind every UT defensive back for an easy catch on the 63-yard bomb. This was inexcusable and allowed Florida to win in miraculous fashion.
What was supposed to be Tennessee’s strongest unit had a rough game Saturday. Trevor Daniel uncharacteristically shanked a punt, Tennessee did not get an opportunity to return a single kickoff, Florida found themselves on their own 40 on a couple of UT kickoffs, and Tennessee was 2 for 5 on field goal attempts. Seeing freshman Brent Cimaglia nail a 51-yarder in the first half was encouraging, but neither he nor Aaron Medley were on target for the rest of the game, which proved decisive. Marquez Callaway had a good return on a punt to put Tennessee in good field position, but other than that this was a frustrating day for what is typically one of Butch Jones’ strongest units.
Tennessee was talented enough to win this game. The players kept fighting and put the Vols in plenty of positions to win. Had Tennessee won, it would have been despite the totally hindering coaching on the sideline. Tennessee’s red zone offense was atrocious. Seven plays inside the Florida 10 were all pass attempts, and only one was completed — for no gain. On first and goal on the half yard line, we saw Dormady throw a fade into double coverage. Larry Scott is the play-caller, but you have to think Butch Jones has a heavy influence over what the Vols do on offense. To not hand the ball off to John Kelly in that situation is mind-boggling, and we are continuing to see the Vols in the shotgun in short yardage situations, and it costs them.
Conversely, the defensive play calling was good all game long. There were some missed tackles, but Bob Shoop was blitzing Franks and forcing him into bad throws, incompletions or sacks. Tennessee’s defense played well enough to win against a bad Florida offense, but I am still scratching my head over the final play of the game. With nine seconds remaining, Florida needed a prayer and Tennessee looked to be playing a Cover 2. Tyrie Cleveland ran past his coverage with ease and came down with the 63-yard bomb from Franks. Tennessee’s coaches lost them this game.