Harrison Bailey injected Tennessee’s football program with a shot of excitement on Saturday inside of Neyland Stadium against No. 6 Florida.
Bailey, making his first career start, marched the Vols (2-6) right down the field to begin the second quarter. The true freshman quarterback found Eric Gray for a 15-yard touchdown to cap an 11-play, 95 yard drive that took 5:24 off the clock. It gave Tennessee a 7-3 lead with 7:53 remaining in the second quarter.
Florida (8-1) quickly dashed UT’s hopes of an upset, striking for two touchdowns before the half to take a 17-7 lead into the break. The Gators would go on to score 28-unanswered points to beat the Vols 31-19.
“I thought our kids fought hard,” Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt said following the game. “When you look at the circumstances a lot of these guys were around, we made a ton of mistakes today. But some of the mistakes we made were probably were where we need to do a much better job getting the guys ready to play. Some of them was because guys hadn’t practice in two weeks.”
Tennessee has now lost four straight to Florida and 15 out of the last 16 meetings.
The Bailey-led offense struggled for much of the game outside of his lone scoring drive. Bailey finished 14-of-21 passing for 111 yards and a touchdown. He did not turn the ball over though he was sacked five times as Tennessee’s offensive line struggled to keep him protected.
“With Harrison, it being the first time he played in a game like that, all the way through,” Pruitt said. “Probably held the ball a few times too long there. Thought he kept his poise. I thought he scrambled well. Kept his eyes down the field. Really a lot of positives there to see.”
Tennessee’s defense struggled to keep Florida’s high-octane offense in check for much of the game. Heisman hopeful Kyle Trask threw for 433 yards and four touchdowns on 35-of-49 passing. Trask did not turn the ball over.
Nine different Gators caught passes from Trask. Kadarius Toney was the leading receiver with eight catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Kyle Pitts hauled in seven passes for 128 yards, while two of Trevon Grimes’ six catches were for touchdowns. Jacob Copeland caught Trask’s fourth and final touchdown of the game.
Florida was extremely efficient in the red zone. The Gators scored on all five trips to the red zone as four of the five were for touchdowns.
Tennessee redshirt sophomore quarterback JT Shrout relieved Bailey to begin the fourth quarter. In Shrout’s 15 minutes of work, he produced two scoring drives on 12-of-14 passing for 121 yards and a touchdown.
Bailey and Shrout combined to complete 26-of-35 passes for two touchdowns and 232 yards. They were sacked six times.
“I thought Harrison (Bailey) and JT (Shrout) both done pretty good jobs, considering they hadn’t played a whole lot of ball,” Pruitt said “I thought they had some poise.”
Ty Chandler rushed for a seven-yard touchdown on Shrout’s first scoring drive. Shrout then connected with Velus Jones Jr. in the back of the end zone from 22-yards out on the final possession of the game.
“We don’t have an effort problem,” Pruitt said. “We don’t have a toughness problem. We got an execution problem. And we’ve got to work hard to fix that. And our guys will.”
Up next for Tennessee is a trip to West End next Saturday to face Vanderbilt (0-8). The Vols will be looking to snap their six-game losing streak.