The Florida Gators came to Knoxville and for the first time in a long time, Volunteer fans were realistically looking forward to the possibility of besting the Gators for the first time in seven seasons.
Reality set in for the Volunteers about midway through the third quarter.
After a very competitive first half, the Gators—literally—ran away with this one, beating Tennessee 37-20.
Let's check out the post-game grades for the Volunteers.
Tyler Bray looked lights out in the first two games; tonight, not so much.
Bray was inaccurate from the beginning of the game. Along with underthrows and overthrows, there were numerous balls that hit Gators' hands first. Although he only had two picks on the night, it easily could have been more like four or five.
There were a few bright spots for Bray—a 42-yard bomb to Justin Hunter and some good tight throws into small windows.
But on the whole, Bray was really all over the place against the Gators. He can’t \have a 50 percent completion rate and multiple interceptions and expect to win many games.
Rajion Neal was pretty much the entire rushing attack for the Vols in this contest.
There were questions coming into this game whether Tennessee would be able to move the ball on the ground against the Gators’ front seven, and Neal answered the call fairly well, ending the night with 87 yards on 23 carries.
Neal also did a decent job picking up the blitz and giving his quarterback time to throw.
Justin Hunter tallied 76 yards on five catches on the night. He had a good game receiving, although he did have some costly drops that would have kept some drives alive.
Hunter also showed some good effort turning into a defender and breaking up at least one would-be interception on an errant throw by Bray.
Cordarrelle Patterson also a had a good—but not great—night for Tennessee. He finished the game with 75 yards on eight catches and a touchdown. Patterson showed good field awareness on a catch down the sideline and good strength to hold to secure the ball until he was down on a play with Gator defenders attempting to strip the ball.
Overall, the tandem had a good night, but with Bray’s inaccuracy, not much more could be expected of them.
Mychal Rivera was the only tight end with a catch against the Gators, but he had a very good night, catching four passes for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Look for Rivera to work his way into the offense more in the weeks to come.
The offensive line was spotty to say the least against Florida.
At times, they looked pretty good, opening some nice holes for the backs to run through and giving Bray some time to throw.
But, as the game wore on, the o-line wore down and Florida’s front seven started to dominate. Bray had less and less time and the run game simply disappeared in the second half.
In the first half, the defensive line had some shining moments. They were able to mount a couple of stands to hold Florida to field goals, including a goal line stand at the end of the first half.
But this is a game of four quarters and the wheels came off for the Vols d-line in the second half. About midway through the third quarter, the Gators offense started running the ball down Tennessee’s throat.
What can you say about a defensive line of a team that gives up 336 rushing yards? Not much good.
Again, 336 rushing yards. What more is there really to say. The defensive line already earned a D-, but the linebackers weren’t much better in this game.
Once the Florida rushers were past the line, there was very little the linebackers could do to stop them either. There was basically no outside contain from the ends or outside linebackers and the result was huge gain after huge gain.
As bad as the front seven for the Volunteers looked in the second half, the secondary didn’t look much better.
As the game wore on, and the UT defense wore down, the Vols were forced to bring more players in the box and Jeff Driskel was able to exploit the secondary on some big pass plays, including a 75-yard touchdown pass to Frankie Hammond early in the fourth quarter.
The Tennessee safeties were also unable to present that last line of defense as Trey Burton also had an 80-yard touchdown run.
If there was any unit that had a particularly good night for Tennessee it was the special teams.
With the exception of a missed extra point, the special teams played very well.
Punting was solid. The Gators were pinned within their own 20 several times, including a nice pooch kick from Tyler Bray.
The best moment for the special teams was sniffing out a fake punt midway through the third quarter, giving Tennessee great field position. Unfortunately, the Vols were unable to turn that into points.
It looked like Derek Dooley had the Volunteers prepared to compete with the Gators—for about two-and-a-half quarters. Then the wheels came off.
Whether this was a direct result of coaching or simply players not executing, I’m not really in a position to say.
What I will say is that it appeared that the Volunteers' coaching staff was unable to come up with any adjustments in the second half to slow down the Gators’ offense.
UT was also unable to mount any offensive attack of its own in the second half.
Again, I’m not in a position to put this completely on the coaches, but the execution certainly wasn’t there if the coaching was.