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Tennessee Football: Where Does the Volunteers Football Program Go from Here?

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Tennessee Football: Where Does the Volunteers Football Program Go from Here?
John Sommers II/Getty Images

On September 9, I published an article titled "Tennessee Football vs. Florida Gators: 6 Reasons Why the Volunteers Will Win." In it, I gave an assessment of the six primary reasons the Vols seemed ready to end the seven years of domination by the Florida Gators.

Here, I was going to briefly review those six points, hoping to explain what worked, what failed and what never had a chance.

However, I quickly realized that those things no longer had meaning on their own. What matters now is when they quit working in the game as well as where the program is going from here.

As I began studying the September 9 article, I immediately realized that all six points worked—for about two and a half quarters. Then, all six failed to work. As a refresher, here are the points:

  • 6. New Attitude on Defense—That was true into the third quarter.
  • 5. Home-Field Advantage—That was true throughout. Vols fans were GREAT!
  • 4. UT Offensive Line vs. Gator Defense—UT held the advantage into the third quarter.
  • 3. Florida Offensive Line vs. UT Defense—UT held the advantage into the third quarter.
  • 2. Tennessee Game-Changers at Receiver—Again, good until into the third quarter.
  • 1. Tennessee Held the Clear Advantage at QB—That one was debatable.

John Sommers II/Getty Images
Florida's QB didn't have the arm, but he ran very well and he didn't turn the ball over. I would say Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray has more upside but Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel did a better job overall.

During the Vols' annual instructional session on how to play football in the SEC provided by the Gators, there was a definite turning point. The moment occurred somewhere between the four- and five-minute mark of the third quarter.

When it began, the failure was amazing—and complete. The Gators had just stalled on another drive around their own 45-yard line. At this moment, they did something that seemed born out of desperation.

It came with Tennessee leading the game 20-13 and on 4th-and-9, with about five minutes left in the third quarter. The Gators attempted a fake punt. When it failed, UT got the ball in Florida territory.

You could feel the desperation from the Florida sideline as well as the momentum throughout the Vols team. It was at that moment that we knew something big was about to happen.

John Sommers II/Getty Images
We were right.

The Vols went three-and-out and punted to Florida. From that point forward, the game seems more like a basketball game than football. It was like a team started going on a huge run to put a game away.

Very quickly, the score went from 20-13 Tennessee to 37-20 Florida and the game was almost over.

It was as if none of the lessons of last year were learned. And the Vols were not even competing with this team anymore.

Bray looked frustrated and was shrugging his shoulders and confused. The superstar receivers began one-handing touchdown passes—and dropping them!

It was the worst 20 minutes of football since the Kentucky game last year. It was awful.

Which takes me back to my original question above: Where does this program go from here? This performance was even more disappointing than the Kentucky game, because the team imploded.

That is a coaching issue, plain and simple.

Those who know my writing know that I have always been vocal about Coach Dooley being given the time he was promised to fix this team. I still feel that way.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
But it is Coach Dooley who has told us he has what he needs to be competitive with any team in the league now. I just didn't realize he was only counting on being competitive for a little more than a half.

The team that lost by 17 points to Florida was the same team that beat them by seven into the third quarter. This loss was not the result of a lack of talent, size or experience.

In this game, Tennessee was a team that cannot handle either success or failure.

 

Failure to Handle Success

The opportunity to put the Gators away was given to Tennessee at about the five-minute mark of the third quarter. That is when Florida tried that desperation fake-punt move and Tennessee made them fail.

The Vols got the ball and immediately got a 15-yard penalty for Bray improperly throwing the ball away to avoid a sack—what makes that penalty even worse is it costs the yardage and a down as well—and then it's 2nd-and-25. The Vols failed to convert and punted.

 

Failure to Overcome Failure

Florida received the UT punt and within a couple of plays, Trey Burton broke off an 80-yard run. Suddenly, it's 20-20. Less than three minutes later, another Florida touchdown makes the score now 27-20, Gators.

Then, at the 10-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Driskel hits a 75-yard touchdown pass To Frankie Hammond Jr. and it's 34-20. Regardless of what else happened, it was over right then.

John Sommers II/Getty Images
The concerning thing here isn't that the Vols lost to a Gators team that is being completely rebuilt. Florida did have lots of talent on hand—even though it didn't all fit the new system, it was still helpful in winning games.

The concerning thing here is the way the Vols got beat. Just like after the Cincinnati game last year. Just like the Gators fans who commented on articles here, saying; "UT says that every year and we beat their as- every year."

That is what is concerning to the average UT fan.

This is only one man's opinion, but unless the Vols beat Alabama, or both Georgia and South Carolina, you probably are not going to see as wild and crazy a Neyland Stadium again this year. At least not until fans gain confidence that real, four-quarter football is going to be played there.

Fans will still come. Many, many of them. Because UT has GREAT fans. But it's not often these days Neyland rocks like it did in this game.

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