To have even had a chance at Florida, Tennessee needed to play a perfect game.
Not even close. Perfection was so far away you needed the Hubble telescope to see it during Florida’s 34-3 victory.
This is a badly flawed football team, folks.
How flawed? Let me count the ways.
As was mentioned, Tennessee needed to play a perfect game, or as close to perfect as possible. Turning the ball over four times, three interceptions and one fumble, isn’t going to get it done. Neither are seven penalties, killer penalties, for 75 yards. The Vols shot themselves in the foot among other sensitive areas. Those mistakes were debilitating.
The Vols looked out of sync, out of rhythm, had no continuity, nor any consistency, from the get-go. Florida also looked bigger and stronger. It just appeared to me that Tennessee was whipped before the opening kick was on the tee.
Jarrett Guarantano doesn’t seem to be getting any better. He’s too hesitant. He holds the ball too long. He looks slow. He has a stable of above-average receivers, and yet he can’t find them with any consistency. True freshman quarterback Brian Maurer didn’t look much better than the veteran Guarantano. But being a true freshman, Maurer can learn from these experiences.
I fear that Guarantano’s ship has sailed.
Gen. Robert Neyland’s Game Maxim No. 2 admonishes players thusly: “Play for and make the breaks and when one comes your way … SCORE.”
The Vols had numerous breaks, but never could capitalize, often because of dumb penalties or Florida being dialed in on defense. Then there are those aforementioned turnovers.
Florida was without DB Donovan Steiner for a half. DE Jabari Zuniga and CB C.J. Henderson were out with injuries, as was top receiver Kedarius Toney. Couple that with the fact that Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks suffered a season-ending ankle injury at Kentucky last week. Quarterback Kyle Trask made his first start since his freshman year in high school.
Tennessee couldn’t have asked for a better scenario.
Yet, the Vols made Trask look like a Heisman contender, and the Florida short-handed defense absolutely shut Tennessee down. The Vols managed just 88 yards on the ground. Tennessee had the Gators where they wanted them and let them off the hook. Thinking about it, I’m not sure how sharp Tennessee’s hook is this year.
Florida’s run game had struggled, it’s offensive line had dealt with scrutiny and its offense hadn’t functioned consistently in its prior three games. Saturday, the Gators racked up 25 first downs, 128 yards rushing, 313 passing for 441 total yards. Florida also controlled the ball for 34:14.
Give the Vol defense credit. It did everything it could to keep Tennessee in the game.
Tennessee couldn’t get out if its own way at times. Florida just looked stronger and faster as it pushed the Vols around, and Dan Mullen always seemed to make the right play call at the right time to keep drives going. The Vols left a lot of plays and points on the field Saturday in Gainesville.
This Tennessee team isn’t very good. Its young kids aren’t ready, and its veterans, except for a handful of players, are behind the curve as it pertains to development, thanks to the prior regime.
What’s frightening for the Tennessee fold is that in the three-game avalanche that the Vols will have to suffer (Florida, Georgia, Alabama), this was the most manageable game. And Florida won by 31 points. I shudder to think what Georgia and Bama will do to this team. It won’t be pretty.
But I have one more lingering thought.
The fact that Florida didn’t score 50 or more on this Tennessee team at home probably says more about the Gators than it does about Tennessee.
Jim Steele is a correspondent for Magic Valley Publishing and host of The Pressbox, which airs 4-6 p.m. CT, Monday-Thursday on WRJB 95.9 FM, Camden, Tenn.