GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tennessee football didn’t play a trio of players that were expected to play in Saturday night’s SEC opening loss at Florida.
We knew center Cooper Mays was questionable for the matchup after missing Tennessee’s first two games of the season, but Heupel stated that he “anticipated” Mays being available.
The senior center went through warmups before not being able to give it a go. Both Ollie Lane and Dayne Davis played in his place and both struggled against the Gators.
“Just wasn’t available tonight at the end of it (warmups),” Heupel said postgame. “Didn’t feel like he was in a position to play his best football.”
Tennessee’s centers weren’t the only offensive linemen that struggled. The Vols front five was outmanned by Florida. After splitting time at right tackle the first two games, Tennessee didn’t play Gerald Mincey against the Gators instead opting for Jeremiah Crawford.
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Mincey transferred to Tennessee from Florida ahead of the 2022 season and has played major snaps on the Vols’ offensive line since. Despite not playing against the Gators, Mincey was dressed out and available to play according to Heupel.
“Mincey, we just made a decision to go with JJ (Crawford) tonight,” Heupel said.
The most bizarre absence was starting cornerback Doneiko Slaughter who did not play. Tennessee did not announce Slaughter as an unavailable player before the game but Heupel said afterwards that “Doneiko wasn’t available.”
Why Slaughter was unavailable was unclear. He hasn’t dealt with any injuries, that the media knows of, to this point in the season and was fully dressed out and holding his helmet on the sidelines. Slaughter has been one of Tennessee’s best defensive backs since the back half of last season and is definitely its best tackling corner.
The Vols defense, and particularly their secondary, tackled poorly against Florida as Gators’ star running back Trevor Etienne totaled a career-high 172 yards.
Tennessee returns to the field next Saturday when they host UTSA at Neyland Stadium.