Tennessee vs. Florida

GAINESVILLE, FL - September 25, 2021 - The Tennessee Volunteers during the game between the Florida Gators and the Tennessee Volunteers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee football dropped its fifth straight to Florida in week four, falling to an even 2-2 on the season.

The Vols jumped out on an early lead to start, but faltered in the second half on the way to a 38-14 loss.

There were a lot of negatives and also some positives for the Vols on Saturday. Here’s how Tennessee graded out.

Quarterbacks

If it could be split on a half-by-half basis, Hendon Hooker would receive an A for his play in the first half. Hooker threw 2 touchdowns and put the Vols in a position to tie the game heading into halftime.

The second half was less productive. Hooker completed just 4 passes, though some ended up as drops.

Still, the quarterback room seems to be moving in the right direction. One bad half does not negate the progress Hooker showed in the other. The Vols have talented receivers, and the play design is there as well – Hooker showing he can connect on the long ball to JaVonta Payton is a sight for sore eyes among Tennessee fans, too.

Grade: C+

Running Backs

It doesn’t jump out on the stat sheet, but Tiyon Evans and Jabari Small had solid performances against a stout Florida defensive line.

Evans did a good job receiving as well. He had 121 all-purpose yards including a 47-yard touchdown reception to put Tennessee on the board in the first quarter.

Otherwise, there were no explosive runs or breakthrough plays to move the chains and make an impact on the game. The running backs were just there on Saturday on the ground, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Neither Evans or Small accounted for any turnovers.

Grade: B-

Wide Receivers/ Tight Ends

As with many other groups, inconsistency plagued the receivers Saturday night. JaVonta Payton and Velus Jones had great games, but too many opportunities were left on the field in the second half.

Chief among these missed opportunities was Jimmy Calloway’s drop on fourth down in the third quarter. It was a classic example of forgetting to catch the ball with free real estate in front of him. It undoubtedly would have moved the chains, but likely could have resulted in 6.

Still, 15 receptions for 275 yards constitutes a decent day in the office.

Grade: C+

Offensive Line

Pass protection against a potent Florida offense is important for any offensive line, and for the most part the Vols unit answered the call. The Florida defensive line only recorded 3 sacks Saturday night, on par for the Gators defense.

Run block was different, though. Evans and Small were not given many gaps, and had little impact on the game because of it. Josh Heupel was able to work his backs into the game in other ways, but not having that run presence hurt the Vols in the third and fourth quarter.

Grade: C+

Defensive Line

Tyler Baron and Matthew Butler gave some pretty consistent pressure on Florida quarterback Emory Jones to start, but as with every other position that began to fade as the game wore on. Ja’Quain Blakely notched the Vols’ only sack of the evening.

Some inconsistent pressure isn’t enough against Florida. The Vols’ only turnover of the game came from Alontae Taylor in the secondary, and the Gators running backs ended with 283 yards rushing. It’s true that Florida is a team that is rush-heavy, but 283 yards will never earn a decent grade.

Grade: D+

Linebacker

Jeremy Banks has three personal fouls through four games this season. No matter how you spin it, this is something Tennessee football can do without.

Nowhere is this more true than in a matchup where mistakes have to be kept at a minimum if a team wants to compete against better opponents.

More importantly, Emory Jones was toying with Banks, Mitchell and Beasley all night. The middle of the field was open whenever he wanted, and there was little adjustment to show change is coming throughout the evening.

It was a night to forget for the linebacker corps.

Grade: F

Secondary

Alontae Taylor saves this grade from being an F by himself. His forced fumble gave the Vols their best chance to stamp their mark on the game before halftime, but Chase McGrath wasn’t able to get it done on the other end of the field.

That is out of the secondary’s control, however. There are plenty of things they can control that fell flat.

For one, the double pass has been a problem all year. Pittsburgh and Bowling Green have already taken advantage of the Vols secondary this year in that regard – the Florida offense was just the latest to prove they watch film.

Jaylen McCollough had a rough night at free safety. He let two Florida defenders score as the last line of defense in the first half alone, including the double pass where he played for the fake screen instead of picking up the streaking defender wide open in the end zone.

Grade: D-

Special Teams

Chase McGrath failed to convert his 47-yard field goal to end the first half. It’s a small sample size, but his inability to connect on, admittedly, a tough field goal did cost the Vols in the end.

Football is a game of momentum, and something as simple as a tie at halftime does wonders for how the team will respond out of the break. Outside of the field goal, no big plays came from the special teams unit on defense.

There were no major miscues apart from the field goal, but nothing was gained either.

Grade: D

Coaching

Execution was not there Saturday night, but that does not mean the design was bad. From a play-calling standpoint, everything was where it should have been.

Josh Heupel and Tim Banks had a great plan in place against the No. 11 Gators. Heupel and Banks cannot account for dropped balls and penalties after the play.

Even the end of the half controversy can be explained. Had Hooker hit an open Velus Jones Jr. when Heupel decided to go hurry-up instead of spiking the ball with 15 seconds remaining, it likely would have resulted in a Vols lead at halftime.

Many will disagree with the call, but Heupel has shown his philosophy is to play up-tempo and catch the Gators out of position. Once again, the execution failed to convert.

Was it perfect? Far from it. With six seconds remaining and one timeout, it should be second nature to call a play to give your kicker a better look at tacking on three points. There is little reason to enter halftime with a wasted timeout.

Grade: B+

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