On one hand, Tennessee football led the Florida Gators 14-10 in the first half. They were a few miscues from being in the game in the fourth quarter despite being 19-point underdogs at the time of kickoff.
However, Florida still covered the spread and dominated UT in the second half, scoring three touchdowns on four possessions and not allowing a point. So what do we make of the Vols’ second loss this season?
Let’s first bring back the miscues. Josh Heupel mismanaged his timeouts at the end of the half, and Chase McGrath missed a 47-yard field goal while Jace Christmann hit his. That was why Florida led 17-14 at halftime.
In the second half, Jimmy Calloway dropped a perfect pass from Hendon Hooker on a perfect 4th and 5 call that 100 percent would have gone for a touchdown. A delay of game past midfield on a 4th and 2 in the fourth quarter killed another drive, forcing the Vols to punt.
That’s at least 13 points Tennessee football clearly left on the field, and it may have been 17 or 21 points. Losing 38-27, 38-31 or potentially 38-35 would lead everybody to say the loss was encouraging. It’s different when it’s 38-14. We didn’t even bring up the fact that the Vols committed 10 penalties for 85 yards.
At the same time, though, miscues happen in games. Florida had their fair share as well. Jacob Copeland had a fumble on a fourth down reception that certainly would’ve led to a score. JaVonta Payton’s 75-yard touchdown reception was off a blown coverage, one only made possible because Florida played the game without Kair Elam.
Simply put, miscues go both ways, and this game easily could’ve been 45-7 or worse. However, an overall look at the game suggests it’s slightly more encouraging than not, and all you have to do is look at the overall offensive production.
Regardless of miscues or injuries, Tennessee football gained over 400 yards of offense. That’s exactly what Heupel was hired to do. Sure, they allowed over 500 yards, but we knew that would happen. The question was whether or not they could move the ball, and they proved they could.
Although Elam’s injury was incredibly helpful, we could also point out that Cooper Mays was rusty at center and then got banged up, and that created its own issues. Heupel’s offense can’t succeed without great center play, and Mays is the only guy who can play center at a high level for UT.
As a result, while Florida is clearly the better team, and while UT is not anywhere close to their level yet, you can actually be encouraged by the play. Assuming he’s heathy, Hendon Hooker supplanted himself as the starting quarterback, and the Vols can move the ball with all of their weapons when at full strength.
There’s reason to believe they have a shot at the Missouri Tigers, who just lost to the Boston College Eagles, and at the Kentucky Wildcats. They will be favorites against the South Carolina Gamecocks. Tennessee football is getting better, and while depth and health are major issues, the takeaway from Saturday’s game is slightly more positive.