Tennessee was unable to pull off an upset on Saturday.
Tennesee dropped a 31-19 decision to No. 6 Florida in Neyland Stadium. It was the sixth straight loss for the Vols.
“Florida has a really good football team, they have a couple of exceptional players and I thought they played very well today,” Tennessee Head Coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “I thought our kids fought hard when you look at the circumstances that a lot of these guys were around. We made a ton of mistakes today, but the mistakes we made were probably somewhere we needed to do a much better job getting guys ready to play and some were guys hadn’t practiced in two weeks.”
Tennessee allowed just 19 rushing yards in the game, and also forced some key stops. However, the Gators used a strong passing game to pull away from the Vols.
“This team was too good for us to let them off the hook, and we let them off the hook from a defensive standpoint about four or five times on third down in the first half,” Pruitt said. “When you’re playing inside man-to-man, you shouldn’t get beat inside. That happened to us a couple of times.”
“I thought our kids fought really hard, but I think this game was very similar to a lot of our games this year. If you look at the way we play about 90 percent of the plays are maybe top tier in this league, but unfortunately, you have to count all plays. There have been three or four plays on each side of the ball in every game, particularly this one, where we’ve made mistakes and either didn’t take advantage or didn’t capitalize on the situation we were in.”
The loss overshadows the first career start for true-freshman quarterback Harrison Bailey. Baley went 14-of-21 passing for 111 yards and a touchdown.
“I feel like we had a really good plan offensively,” Pruitt said. “When you’re four open and they want to bring pressure, there’s no way to hide it. Everybody knows they’re coming. You can see them coming. We felt like we had good answers. We’ve got to get the ball out of our hand. That’s what happens with a young quarterback sometimes. You’ve got to get the ball out of your hand. It’s like reading a book. You see it coming and get the ball out. It’s that simple. He’ll get better the longer he does it.”
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask had 433 passing yards and four touchdowns in the game to pace the Gators.
The Gators opened the scoring on a 30-yard field goal from Evan McPherson with 9:19 remaining in the opening quarter.
After the teams traded punts to end the first quarter, the Vols marched 96 yards down the field in 11 plays, capped by Bailey’s first career touchdown pass — a 15-yard connection to Gray out of the backfield — to give UT a 7-3 advantage with 9:59 left in the first half.
Florida immediately responded with a six-play, 75-yard drive in just over two minutes to regain a three-point advantage.
On the ensuing drive, the Vols failed to convert on a fake punt from their own 30, but the defense was undaunted with its back against the wall, forcing a three-and-out before McPherson missed a 53-yard field goal attempt.
Following a Tennessee punt, the Gators added their second touchdown of the half to take a 17-7 lead into the locker room.
Getting the first possession of the second half, Florida maintained its momentum with a five-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to increase its lead to 24-7.
The Gators pushed the advantage to 31-7 with another touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
The Vols responded by embarking on an 11-play, 94-yard drive led by J.T. Shrout. Chandler capped the drive with his third score of the season to cut the Florida lead to 31-13.
“J.T. really had two weeks of really good practice, and then on Wednesday, he was throwing a ball and then his shoulder popped,” Pruitt said. “So, we didn’t really even know if he could play going into today, but he felt like he could. We had a plan to play both of the guys going in if J.T. could. We went with Harrison to start and were rocking along okay.”
“I know we didn’t create a ton of explosive plays, but we were kind of changing the momentum of the game there and then gave up a drive right before halftime. As the game went in the second half, there were a couple plays that I thought maybe we could have been a little more aggressive on. J.T. is from an experience standpoint two years older than Harrison, so just getting him out there and going I thought he did a nice job at the end.”
Shrout added his first touchdown pass of the year late in the fourth quarter, hitting Velus Jones Jr. on a 22-yard pitch-and-catch to cement the final score of 31-19.
Shrout finished the game 12-of-14 passing for 121 yards in limited action, while Chandler and Gray had 49 and 47 rushing yards, respectively.
The Vols return to action next week with a road contest against Vanderbilt.
Photos courtesy of Tennessee Athletics