For two and a half quarters it was clear that Tennessee was the most talented team on the field Saturday night. For the remainder it was clear that Florida possessed the grit, character and desire to win this game.
Midway through the third quarter, Tennessee was leading 20-13 and seemed to have the game under control. Then something happened that has plagued this team for several years, the big play.
Florida’s all-everything player, Trey Burton, takes a direct snap and scoots down the sideline for an 80-yard touchdown.
In my home, three hours away from Knoxville, you could feel the momentum shift in the direction of the Gators. They turned that momentum into an avalanche, winning the game 37-20.
Even more glaring than the final score is the disparity in yardage in the second half of the game. Florida out-gained Tennessee 305-35. There were bright spots for the Vols in this game, but the final 18 minutes were enough to eclipse those good things.
The main question is: Will this team respond well to adversity? At present, the answer resounds clearly as a bell. The answer continues to be no.
As Vols fans well know, this is the way it has been under Derek Dooley. This loss brings Tennessee’s record against ranked opponents under him to 0-11. Playing ranked opponents is when a team faces the most adversity, and to this point, they have never responded.
Looking ahead, based on this loss, the chance of this season taking an ugly turn seems extremely likely. After welcoming Akron to Neyland, they face a tough four-game stretch.
This stretch will tell the story of this team and how they will handle adversity. They’ll need to learn how to handle it, because there will be truckloads of it coming.
The next month will have Tennessee visiting Georgia, Mississippi St. and South Carolina along with a home game against Alabama. These are four of the top teams in the SEC and all know how to put the pressure on their opponents.
The season is young, and time will tell how this Tennessee team will fare the rest of the way. As of now, the possibility of a strong finish isn’t looking very promising. Dismal at best.