5 Observations: No. 9 Florida 34, Tennessee 3

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    (Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

    It was frustrating, it was unlucky, it was mind-boggling. Then, it just became ugly.

    Despite turning the ball over three times and committing several bad penalties, No. 9 Florida (4-0, 2-0 SEC) was able to have their way against Tennessee (1-3, 0-1 SEC) on Saturday, winning by a score of 34-3. The Vols turned the ball over four times and were majorly inept on offense. Not even a change at quarterback could salvage the offense.

    Tennessee couldn’t cash in on opportunities, turned the ball over far too often, and committed boneheaded penalties. And for the third-straight year and the 14th time in the last 15 years, the Vols couldn’t beat Florida.

    Here are our five biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s blowout loss to Florida.

    Disastrous Mistakes

    In the first half alone, Tennessee committed enough mistakes to be down by five or six scores. They trailed only 17-0 because Florida, too, made a lot of mistakes.

    The Vols tossed two interceptions, committed four penalties for 40 yards, and managed a mere 15 rushing yards on nine attempts. That doesn’t account for the missed throws, dropped passes, and defensive gaffes in the secondary, either.

    Guarantano’s first interception wasn’t on him, but the second one was. His first one wasn’t caught by Jauan Jennings in the endzone, and Trey Dean was there to dive and make the interception. The second pick that Guarantano threw was a miscommunication with Marquez Callaway. The senior receiver ran down the field, and Guarantano thought he was coming back on his route. Guarantano threw it right to a defender.

    Florida wasn’t able to capitalize as much as they could’ve on UT’s mistakes, however. The Gators scored just three points off Tennessee’s two turnovers in the first half.

    But that was just the first half.

    Tennessee turned the ball over twice in the second half to go along with their two turnovers in the first half as well. Freshman Brian Maurer tossed a pick in the third quarter, and freshman running back Eric Gray was stripped of the ball, and Florida recovered in the fourth quarter.

    The Gators turned the ball over three times themselves, but Tennessee never once took advantage.

    The Vols finished the game with four turnovers and seven penalties for 75 yards. Several of those mistakes were made by upperclassmen such as Trey Smith, Jauan Jennings, and Daniel Bituli, too.

    With as bad as Tennessee is, mistakes like that are hard to overcome. The Vols couldn’t on Saturday.

    QB Change Couldn’t Turn it Around

    Jarrett Guarantano had an awful first half at quarterback for the Vols, and Jeremy Pruitt had seen enough. Pruitt turned to true freshman Brian Maurer at quarterback to start the second half, and Maurer provided an immediate spark, leading UT’s offense down the field to get Tennessee on the board with a 40-yard field goal.

    But the momentum wouldn’t last.

    Maurer threw an interception later on in the game, and Guarantano eventually replaced him after a handful of series. Guarantano couldn’t get anything going once he came back in, however, and Tennessee’s offense remained ridiculously inept against Florida’s defense.

    On the day, Tennessee’s offense managed a meager 239 total yards and just 4.3 yards per play. The Vols failed to score a single touchdown on offense, and the team finished 14-of-28 for 151 yards and three interceptions through the air.

    Tennessee picked up 12 first downs on offense. Florida got 25. The Vols were just 4-of-13 on third down, but Florida was 5-of-12 on the money down.

    Couldn’t Stop a Pass

    For making his first start in seven years, Florida quarterback Kyle Trask didn’t look out of rhythm or uncomfortable at all. Of course, Tennessee’s front seven didn’t do much to make him uncomfortable, either.

    Trask finished Saturday’s game 20-of-28 for 293 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. The Vols were able to pick him off twice, but those two plays were two of the only positives about UT’s secondary in the game. The front seven got two sacks and stood strong in the run game, but Florida’s receivers had a field day against Tennessee’s secondary.

    Seven different Florida receivers caught passes, and three running backs also got in on the action. In total, the Gators amassed over 400 yards of offense even with a somewhat ineffective rushing attack backing up Kyle Trask.

    Bryce Thompson’s return to the secondary did little to help the unit. Thompson himself made several mistakes, and Nigel Warrior and Warren Burrell again failed to be major difference-makers on multiple occasions.

    Defense Gets Gassed

    Despite those mistakes by the secondary, the defense actually did their part on several occasions in the game. The offense, however, let them down time and time again.

    Tennessee’s defense forced three Gator turnovers, stopped Florida once on a pivotal fourth down play, and held the Gators to just 1-of-4 on third downs in the first half. Florida managed just 46 rushing yards and averaged only 2.4 yards per carry in the first half.

    Despite some decent play, the Vols still trailed 17-0 at the half because of the offense’s inability to get anything going.

    Around the end of the third quarter, Tennessee’s defense started to look tired because of the offense’s lackluster performance. The Gators’ offense started at the UT 46 and 31 on two different drives, and they began other drives beyond their 30-yard line four other times.

    That wasn’t ideal for a Tennessee defense when dealing with a UT offense that wasn’t helping them out.

    A Lot to Think About

    After this loss, where does Tennessee go?

    Do the Vols go with Brian Maurer at quarterback moving forward? Does Jarrett Guarantano get one more shot to lead the offense? Is there open competition all across the board?

    What does the remainder of the season look like for Tennessee now? A 1-6 or 1-7 record in October isn’t out of the question at this point. In fact, either of those seem likely with the way Tennessee’s season has started.

    The Vols go on a bye week this upcoming week before taking on Georgia on October 5th. Answers won’t come easy from that game, either.

    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.