Tennessee lost its sixth-straight football game on Saturday afternoon inside of Neyland Stadium, falling to No. 6 Florida 31-19.
The Vols led 7-3 in the second quarter courtesy of a 15-yard passing touchdown from Harrison Bailey to Eric Gray. Florida would then go on to score 28 unanswered to secure the SEC East and a birth in the SEC Championship Game.
Here are our position grades from Tennessee’s fourth-straight loss to the Florida Gators:
Jarrett Guarantano was not Tennessee’s starting quarterback for the first time all season on Saturday. Instead, Vols true freshman Harrison Bailey made his first career start. Bailey may have held on to the ball too long at times and he may have missed a couple of throws that he would love to have back, but the Georgia native was very solid against the Gators.
Bailey gained confidence as the game progressed and went on to throw for 111 yards and a touchdown on 11-of-14 passing. Most importantly, he did not turn the football over.
JT Shrout relieved Bailey when the game was out of hand and played the entire fourth quarter. Shrout looked good in his first action since playing against Kentucky in September, orchestrating two scoring drives. He did not turn the football over as he threw for 121 yards and a touchdown on 12-of-14 passing.
Ty Chandler and Eric Gray ran tough for much of the game despite Tennessee’s offensive line being unable to open up holes consistently. Chandler and Gray combined for 96 rushing yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. The two averaged 4.0 yards per carry.
Chandler led the team in rushing with 49 yards on 12 carries and rushed for the lone touchdown from seven-yards out. Gray rushed for 47 yards on 12 carries.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
Tennessee’s receivers struggled to get open on several occasions against a solid Gators secondary. Gray served as Tennessee’s leading-receiver with seven catches for 46 yards and a 15-touchdown reception. As for UT’s actual receivers, Josh Palmer, Brandon Johnson, Velus Jones and Jalin Hyatt each had four catches. Jones’ catches were the most productive, as he scored his first touchdown as a Vol and tallied 70 yards.
Princeton Fant had three catches, which tied a career-high. The only problem is two of the catches came in garbage time when the game was out of reach.
Tennessee’s offensive line didn’t turn in the most crisp performance against the Gators. The big guys up front helped guide Chandler and Gray to a combined 4.0 yards per carry, but Florida’s defense isn’t the typical Florida defense that we’ve come to know. 4.0 yards per carry is slightly disappointing against this particular Gators defense, as it feels as if Tennessee left yards out on the field.
Tennessee struggled in pass protection as well, giving up six sacks on the afternoon. Some of those sacks were because of Bailey holding on to the ball too long as a freshman making his first career start, but Bailey was also pressured multiple times that led to incompletions.
Florida ran 66 plays against the Vols. Only 11 of them were designed run plays to the running backs. Tennessee’s defensive line was strong against the rush, but struggled against Florida’s offensive line when Kyle Trask dropped back to throw the football. Trask had all day to throw the football fairly often. The Vols had just one hurry all day and it didn’t come from a lineman.
Roman Harrison, Tyler Baron and Deandre Johnson flashed at times during the Gators in the first game since Kivon Bennett was dismissed from the team. There just wasn’t a consistent pass rush off the edge to seriously affect Trask and you’re not going to beat a Heisman hopeful without making life difficult on him.
Henry To’o To’o had his best game in several weeks. To’o To’o made a team-high eight tackles and recorded 2.5 tackles for a loss. But he didn’t receiver much help from his buddies at the inside linebacker position, as Jeremy Banks and Quavaris Crouch combined for seven tackles. The unit also struggled in coverage once again.
Tennessee’s secondary had a miserable outing against Trask and the very talented Gators passing attack. Trask threw for 433 yards, four touchdowns and didn’t throw an interception on 35-of-49 passing. Tennessee’s pass rush did the secondary zero favors, but Florida receivers were running wide open all day long. Execution and miscommunications continue to be a problem for the Vols secondary.
Paxton Brooks had a great day punting the football. Brooks averaged 40.9 yards on six punts, but he had two travel over 50-yards, his longest traveled 56-yards and he downed Florida inside of the 20 three different times. Brooks even made a heck of a pass on a fake punt that Jimmy Holiday dropped.
Brent Cimaglia continues to struggle through injury. Cimaglia didn’t attempt any field goals, but missed an extra point.
The Vols didn’t any any coverage busts against a dangerous Florida return team.
Saturday’s loss to Florida marked the sixth-straight loss for the Vols. To make matters worse, it was the sixth-straight loss by double-digits. Tennessee looked better that it has in weeks, much better than anticipated. Especially given the circumstances of so many players not even practicing the last weeks.
But there were still puzzling decisions made on top of getting frustrated with the media for asking fair questions. Why did Bailey not play the fourth quarter in order to gain valuable reps? Or heck, why hasn’t Shrout received more opportunities after throwing an interception against Kentucky. Guarantano and Brian Maurer have received ample opportunities, yet it looks like Shrout should have been playing more to this point in the season.
I’d suggest to Jeremy Pruitt that he better find a way to beat Vanderbilt next weekend in Nashville.