Vols Snuffed in the Swamp Again
Tennessee couldn’t take advantage of Florida’s numerous penalties in Gainesville on Saturday, and couldn’t stop the speed of Chris Rainey, in the Vols’ 7th consecutive loss to the Gators. The difference in this year’s version of these two rival squads is greater than the final score spread.
It looked like more of the same from the horrors of the last few seasons against Florida.
Nothing said it more than the first half of the third quarter.
After Tennessee took the half’s opening kickoff, down only 16 to 7, Vol QB Tyler Bray got flushed out of the pocket, rolled right, and threw to the right hash marks. Bray didn’t see Josh Evans about halfway between himself and the intended receiver. Evans grabbed the ball for an interception while standing all alone at the Tennessee 41 yard line, giving the Gators instant good field position.
Four plays later, Florida had the ball, first and goal at the Vol 3 yard line. They averted more of their recent red zone problems by running it in on a 4th and goal for a 23-7 lead.
The Vols had to punt on the next series after Da’Rick Rogers dropped a pass on a 3rd and 10 situation in Florida territory.
The Gators were ready to pile it on.
With the ball on their own 17, Florida presented the Vols with a kick in the teeth. Gator QB John Brantley was pressured by the Vol rush, but saw all-world rusher/receiver Chris Rainey as a safety valve hanging out around the line of scrimmage. Brantley dumped it to Rainey who then burned through the Tennessee defense for a lightening 80-yard ramble to the endzone to make it 30-7.
Tennessee was able to put up 17 points the rest of the way, the first 7 coming after a Florida fumble and Vol recovery (really a muscle strip of the ball by Vol A.J. Johnson), but it proved too little too late.
The Vols brought in their lopsided attack and left even more lopsided. Tennessee was pretty much all pass and no rush for the first two games against much lesser quality.
On 21 carries, Tennessee amassed a total of -9 yards against Florida on Saturday. Florida knew the Vols had no ground game coming in. Apart from Tauren Poole’s 10-yard run on the Vols’ opening play of the game, the dismal rushing attack got more dismal.
There will be a lot of blame put at the doorstep of the Tennessee OL for the pitiful run game, but Tauren Poole and Marlin Lane didn’t do anything to make at least a little bit out of nothing. They both appear to have no quickness at the line to effectively change direction.
That’s not the case for the Gator runners. The speed and quickness of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps is something to behold, especially from Rainey who, on multiple occasions, ran to the line of scrimmage with no hole to be found. But, a shoulder fake and a flash lateral move, he would eventually find something from which to gain some yardage.
Tennessee’s tackling was woeful on many occasions, especially at the line of scrimmage. But more often than not, it was a tackle attempt on Rainey or Demps who were in the midst of a juke move. That made some tackle attempts look missed when in reality they were defenders swiping at shadows.
The penalties in this game must have been totally frustrating for both coaching staffs. Tennessee had 10 infractions for 94 yards, many of them mental mistakes. Illegal formation with 5 players in the backfield, a personal foul on the DL by hitting a Florida OL while on the ground twice, a couple of face mask grabs, and a couple of false starts.
But that was nothing compared to the flags thrown against Florida. At the end of the day, the Gators racked up 16 penalties, only one shy of the school record set in 1996. Seven of them were for pass interference.
The Vols had 6 more first downs than the Gators (23 to 17), and the seven pass interferences accounted for the difference.
Special teams for Tennessee were an eyesore in the first half, preventing the Vols from going into the locker room even or perhaps better. Michael Palardy hooked a FG attempt early, had a punt blocked in his own end of the field by taking his sweet time getting it off, and the Vols were flagged for an illegal wedge formation on a kickoff return.
What has been a major problem with the kicking game in the last few seasons seems to be getting worse.
But in the end, it was Florida’s vast superiority in speed, and their balanced offensive attack, that was the difference.
The Gators rushed for 134 yards on the afternoon (that’s 143 more than the Vols), balanced by Jeff Brantley’s 14 for 23 passing and 213 yards with 2 TD’s and no INTs. Chris Rainey had 233 total yards (108 on the ground and 104 from passes) and was hands down the player of the game.
We’ve gone this long and haven’t mentioned Tyler Bray’s numbers?
Well, the numbers were respectable: 26 for 48, 288 yards, and 3 TD passes. But, the sophomore who earned SEC offensive player of the week last Saturday threw 2 INTs this Saturday. There were several more passes that were nearly intercepted.
His accuracy was pretty spotty, and he appeared downright erratic at times. But he was also sacked three times and pressured by the Gator defense for much of the afternoon. Bray was at his best on the last drive of the first half where he led the Vols from their own 11 yard line into the endzone on eight consecutive passing plays.
He also lost his best receiver on the fourth play of the game.
On a 3rd and 10 from the Vol 30, Justin Hunter made a fine catch for a first down, jumping high into the humid air, but coming down onto his very straight left leg while trying to also turn to his right to run after the catch. Hunter lay on the ground in visible pain, but after a few minutes was able to walk off the field unaided. Early word was a sprained knee, and he was seen on the sidelines in the second half with crutches.
How much the Justin Hunter injury influenced the outcome can be debated. Bray has relied heavily on Da’Rick Rogers and Hunter so far this early season. Today, Bray ended up connecting with nine different receivers. Had Hunter not been injured, there likely would have been a lower number of receivers catching passes, but without a running game to aid the Vol offense, it’s hard to argue that Hunter would have allowed Tennessee to beat Florida today.
Florida is too talented, too fast, and too balanced in attack for this Tennessee squad.
Or, for any Tennessee squad in recent memory.
TK won the bonus pool today by predicting the exact score, and thus the exact spread and point total.