Tennessee Football: 10 Things We Learned from the Volunteers' Loss to Florida
After holding Florida to just 10 first-half points, Tennessee’s defense bent and then broke in the second half of their Week 3 game vs. the Gators, giving up 27 points and ultimately dropping the game 37-20.
Now that the dust has settled and what looked like a Volunteer revival has turned out to be a major disappointment, what can we glean from Tennessee’s loss to Florida?
The following slideshow pinpoints 10 lessons learned from the Volunteer’s eighth consecutive loss to the Gators and in doing so may serve as a guide to what Tennessee needs to do to not only right the wrongs from this week but survive the rest of the 2012 season.
Tyler Bray Can’t Make Mistakes
Though this sounds almost too simple, Tennessee can’t make a comeback from the land of 6-7 and 5-7 if they don’t have an on-field leader who can’t limit his mistakes.
Bray’s first-quarter pick led directly to Florida’s first TD, and his second pick late in the third resulted, just two plays later, in the Gator’s go-ahead score.
This was the point of no return and really was the play that the entire scope of the game hinged upon.
Bray doesn’t have to be an All-American for Tennessee to win football games, but he’s got to be more efficient than he was last season, and he can’t afford to begin a nasty habit of making poor decisions.
Florida Has Tennessee’s Number
The Volunteers haven’t beaten the Gators since 2004 when they edged Florida 30-28 in Knoxville under then-head coach Phillip Fulmer.
This also marks the second-to-last time Tennessee managed to win the SEC East, a task that is difficult to do without beating Florida (even though they managed to do so in 2007).
Since the 2004 victory the Vols have dropped eight straight to the Gators, marking the longest streak in the series between the two since Tennessee won 10 consecutive from 1916-1955.
The Vols Defense Still Needs to Improve Against the Run
Tennessee finished the 2011 season ranked No. 69 nationally against the run, a rating that was considerably less impressive than their No. 36 scoring ranking and their No. 12 rank vs. the pass.
Though the Vols held NC State to 119 yards rushing in the opener and then FCS Georgia State to 87 yards in Week 2, the 336 rushing yards allowed vs. Florida this past Saturday is a strong indicator that this aspect from the game is far from improved.
In a run-centric conference such as the SEC, Tennessee will have to notch things up a level to stop the ground attack in order to win games.
Florida Can Come Back in the Second Half
After scoring 27 points in the second half to come back against Tennessee this week and scoring 10 points and holding the Aggies out of the end zone in the second half of Week 2, it’s safe to say that no lead is safe vs. Florida.
Are the Gators for real?
Who knows, but they’ll likely hang around in games and fight all the way to the whistle.
The Outcome Isn’t Always Decided After the First Half under Derek Dooley
According to ESPN’s calculations before Saturday’s game vs. Florida, the Vols were 13-0 when leading at halftime in the Derek Dooley era and 0-14 when behind or tied by the midway point.
This streak was obviously broken wide open in Week 3 of the 2012 season as Tennessee took a 14-10 lead into halftime and came out with a 37-20 loss.
Tennessee’s First Mention in the Polls Since 2008 Ended Quickly
Before being named the No. 23 team in the land after Week 2 of this season, the last time Tennessee earned mention in the major polls was coming into 2008 when they were ranked No. 18 in the preseason contest.
The Vols kicked off the ’08 campaign by losing to UCLA in overtime (27-24) and then dropped out of the polls completely until last week.
With a 2-1 record and games at Georgia, at Mississippi State, vs. Alabama and at South Carolina on tap, it may be quite some time before Tennessee gets the votes necessary for high honors again.
Tennessee’s Defense Struggles in the Second Half
After holding Florida to a mere 10 points in the first half of Saturday’s game, the Vols defense gave up 17 third-quarter, and then, 10 fourth-quarter points that ultimately cost Tennessee the game.
Unfortunately, this second-half defensive collapse is not an isolated incident for the Volunteers in recent years.
To illustrate, in 2011 Tennessee gave up 54 cumulative points in the first quarter, 57 in the second and then 89 and 71 in the third and fourth quarters respectively.
That nets out to 111 first-half points allowed vs. 160 in the second half.
Though the Vols gave up only seven second-half points in both the NC State and FCS Georgia State games this season, these aren’t exactly SEC opponents that are playing (with all due respect) on the same level as the rest of the 2012 slate.
Tennessee’s defensive unit must finish strong if they are to have a chance against the meat of their conference schedule.
Derek Dooley Is One Step Closer To…
Derek Dooley entered the 2012 season with the hottest coaching seat in the biz.
Though Dooley’s unsavory seating arrangement seemed to cool after a quality win over NC State in the opener and an expected victory over FCS Georgia State in Week 2, the loss to Florida will no doubt turn the heat back up on the man with the orange pants.
Dooley has only four SEC wins since he took over the reins in 2010, and if he can’t start winning some divisional and/or conference games, he’ll be the next really good guy out of a coaching job.
Tennessee Needs to Establish a Running Game
After ranking an awful No. 116 nationally last season in rushing yards, Tennessee really needed to address its offensive imbalance in order to improve in 2012.
Though the Vols 83 yards rushing vs. Florida this season was an improvement over the negative nine yards they posted in their 2011 game against the Gators, it’s hardly reason for celebration.
Tennessee posted 191 yards rushing vs. NC State in their opener and then 184 yards vs. FCS Georgia State, but these were hardly SEC defenses that specialize in shutting down the run.
The truth of the matter is, there is no place more difficult to conduct a rushing revival than the bowels of the SEC, but Tennessee must do just that to win games in 2012.
The Season Is Far From Lost
Though the second-half debacle vs. Florida was painful for an already beleaguered Tennessee fanbase to watch, it’s far from time to throw in the towel and deem the season a failure.
Yes, it was ugly, and yes, there are a bunch of games left that could be difficult, but it’s not over just yet.
The Volunteers are 2-1 overall and 0-1 in the SEC after three weeks of play, but the four minimum games left to become bowl eligible are definitely out there as are other winning possibilities.
Tennessee should be 3-1 after next week’s game hosting Akron, and then, the Vols should be able to tack on three additional wins vs. Troy, at Vandy and then, vs. Kentucky in the closer.
Beyond that, Tennessee should play well at Mississippi State on Oct. 13 (they have a bye-week coming into that game) and then should have a fighting chance against South Carolina and then Missouri.