Tennessee is known for attacking its opponents with a downfield passing attack and a defense that creates pressure with multiple blitzes, twists and stunts. Those schemes were largely nullified against Florida on Saturday.
The Vols lost 29-16 against the Gators, which had a succinct, effective plan on both sides of the ball. Florida attacked the Vols horizontally, from sideline to sideline, when they had the ball, negating Tennessee’s ability to pressure Florida quarterback Graham Mertz, who was also able to avoid pressure by rolling out, sometimes on designed plays and sometimes on his own.
Stopping the Vols on offense is all about denying Tennessee the big passing plays downfield that were so prevalent last season. The Vols’ first two opponents, Virginia and Austin Peay, played soft coverage to take away quarterback Joe Milton’s downfield game. The Gators did the same; they were just more talented than Tennessee’s first two opponents.
The Vols, led by head coach Josh Heupel, were clearly out-coached in the first half as the Gators led 26-7. In the second half, Tennessee kept things somewhat close by taking those easy pass completions underneath and hitting on an occasional downfield play. However, the Vols’ passing game relied on tough running after a completion much more than it did streaking receivers downfield as it did a year ago. Moreover, the Vols looked like a running football team at times in the second half as they ran one successful running play after another. Why wasn’t the running game a bigger part of the Vols’ plan in the first half before the Vols fell down by multiple touchdowns.
The Vols held a player’s only, team meeting that was supposed to jolt Tennessee back from a substandard performance against Austin Peay, in which the Vols won 30-13. Maybe UT’s coaches need to get together and discuss what this latest game says about their identity, or lack thereof. The Vols don’t appear capable of being a high-scoring offense that takes teams and the nation by storm. Perhaps the Vols need to be more dependent on running the football and provide a suspect defensive backfield more help instead of blitzing as often.
Tennessee has some decisions to be made. With senior Joe Milton III seemingly entrenched as the Vols’ starting quarterback, UT’s coaches can’t do the same thing it did last year with former quarterback Hendon Hooker off to the NFL. However, Tennessee’s coaches also have to address some simple fundamental issues that no one saw coming.
The Vols committed a bevy of mistakes, including penalties, missed tackles and poor discipline in the running box which allowed Florida offensive blockers to get leverage against the Vols’ defenders and Gator ball carriers to tack on more yardage than should have been allowed.
It seems as if Tennessee came into this season with a simple mindset: Just do it – again. However, that slipper won’t fit on a different set of players that may be more talented overall, but don’t have the same skillset on offense, and a defense that still has serious concerns in the defensive backfield.
It doesn’t sound right after the miracles that Heupel has been able to produce in his short time as a Vol. However, it’s clear that the Vols got out coached against Florida despite a second-half push that made things look better than they actually were in Gainesville.
If Tennessee manages to climb back into College Football Playoff contention or is even able to finish second in the SEC East, its coaches had better take a long look at how they managed this team to this point.