The Vols were looking to win in Gainesville for the first time since 2003 when they took the field on Saturday. And it looked like they would have some extra opportunities to do so in the final seconds as Florida was in their own territory with nine seconds to play in a tie ball game.
But then the unthinkable happened, and the Gators connected on a 63-yard Hail Mary as time expired to win the game. Feleipe Franks hit Tyrie Cleveland for the deciding touchdown, and the Gators sent the Vols back to Knoxville with a loss for the seventh straight year.
Tennessee had plenty of opportunities to find a way to win this game, but they couldn’t seal the deal when it mattered most. Even when Justin Martin forced a potential game-saving fumble as Malik Davis was about to cross the end zone, and even after Rashaan Gaulden came down with an interception to set the Vols up in Florida territory late in the fourth quarter, the Vols couldn’t win it.
The Vols threw a pick-six and scored just once in three red zone possessions. And that all led to a Hail Mary victory for the Gators.
Here are our five biggest takeaways from the Vols’ crushing loss to Florida.
John Kelly is Underutilized
John Kelly finished this game with career-highs in rushing yards and receiving yards. Kelly finished with 141 rushing yards and a touchdown on 19 carries and hauled in six receptions for 96 yards.
Even with him touching the ball 25 times in the game, Kelly still should’ve had it more. Specifically in the red zone.
The Vols ran seven plays in the game inside Florida’s ten-yard line. All seven of those plays were passes, and the only one that was completed was to Kelly, and it went for a loss. He wasn’t handed the ball on a running play once.
Tennessee was in or around the 20-yard line a few other times and didn’t give Kelly the ball on hand-offs when the Vols needed yards. Kelly is arguably the best weapon the Vols have on offense, and even though he touched the ball on 35 percent of Tennessee’s plays, he needs more touches. Especially situationally.
Special Teams was Costly
Normally, the Vols are great on special teams. In this game, however, special teams proved to be another reason Tennessee came up short.
Tennessee missed three field goals in the game from 51, 47, and 44 yards out. Freshman Brent Cimaglia connected on his first ever field goal attempt, hitting a 51-yard field goal. He would miss his next two, then senior Aaron Medley would miss his first attempt from 44 yards. Medley would connect on a 27-yard attempt to tie the game with 50 seconds left, but those misses cost the Vols in a big way.
Not only that, but the Vols’ punting game was off as was their kick return fielding. Trevor Daniel uncharacteristically shanked a punt, and the Vols allowed a kickoff return into their own territory.
All in all, the Vols’ didn’t have a good day on special teams, and it came back to bite them.
Quinten Dormady Looked Pressured
After calming himself down after a rough start against Georgia Tech in the season opener, Quinten Dormady looked pressured and panicked again for most of the game against Florida.
Dormady’s footwork and mechanics were sloppy for a large part of the game, and it showed on his stat line as well. Dormady completed 21 of his 39 pass attempts for 259 yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions. And all three of those interceptions were very costly.
Dormady’s first interception came in the first quarter in Florida territory. His second interception came at the goal line in the third quarter, and his third resulted in a pick-six to start the fourth quarter.
Jarrett Guarantano saw the field for just one play, and it was just because Dormady was briefly injured. Guarantano’s lone play resulted in a penalty on the offense, and Dormady came back in after the penalty.
Play-Calling Was Suspect
As was already mentioned, John Kelly was massively underutilized in the red zone. But that wasn’t the only play-calling that came back to haunt the Vols.
Tennessee had multiple play calls on both sides of the ball that left fans scratching their heads. The Vols needed a first down on a third and three yet elected to throw a pass to Ethan Wolf four yards behind the first down marker. The defense only had two players deep in coverage on the Hail Mary, and the corners were playing soft coverage for most of the night, allowing the Gators to build up momentum for some big plays.
Play-calling wasn’t the only reason the Vols lost the game. Lack of execution was a major factor as well. But the play-calling didn’t help.
Blown Opportunities, Again
This article is littered with examples of blown opportunities for the Vols in this one. Yet there are still more I could bring up.
But I will spare you all. Just know that the Vols blew opportunity after opportunity in this game, and for the seventh straight time, the Vols left Gainesville empty-handed.