THAT JUST HAPPENED: Last Second Magic Turns on Tennessee

All Photos by Rusty Odom

For a moment, you almost believed what you were seeing. Tennessee was backing into another insane, undeserved win. In spite of the goofy interceptions thrown by Dormady, the confusing coaching  decision to abandon the run game at the 1 yard line (a decision that would swing the game 14 points to the bad guys), and( glaringly) in spite of the weirdness in the kicking game, everything was falling into place for Butch Jones and company, yet again.. With John Kelly’s daredevil running carrying the whole Volunteer State  on his back, and the defense finding a way to pull off heroic takeaways, the score seemed to morph from hopeless to tied 20-20 in a heartbeat. With the final  nine seconds of what should’ve been a Florida blowout ticking away, Feliepe Franks scrambled, ran out of time to think, and …

What a game. Let’s hit the hot points.

THERE WILL BE BACKLASH: There will be plenty of gnashing of teeth in the comment sections, and that’s ok. A loss like this, to a deeply hated rival, should hurt. There will be a week of call-in shows flooded with angry fans. There will be calls for Butch Jones’s job. But that’s every week in Knoxville, win or lose. Tennessee should be on a 3 game streak against Florida, and you can bet  that fact haunts the coaching staff far more than the disapproval of a miserably fickle fan base. If there’s one thing coaching at Tennessee requires, it’s thick skin and blinders. These coaches will get mileage on that thick skin this week.

REAL TALK:: Tennessee should’ve won today, and it shouldn’t have been close. Florida struggled to generate offense and their defense got regularly abused by Tennessee’s officially legitimate running game. The Gators also, contrary to widespread expectation, kept many of their stars on suspension. The Gators couldn’t win without a lot of help from The Vols…and they got it. The Vols kicking game left nine points on the field and also showed rare inconsistencies in the punt and kickoff aspects. The Vols let the Gators extend their flourish of of 2017  pick six’s to three. Most frustratingly, though, the Vols let an opportunity from the one yard line, which seems like an obvious running scenario, instead turn into a Florida interception. That interception turned into Gator points a few plays later. Without all this help, Tennessee would have cruised past a vividly flawed and hobbled Florida.

DEFENSE DEVELOPING: Don’t let the heartbreaking Hail Mary fool you: the Vols defense lead the team today. Clearly, DC Shoop’s men are still putting it all together, but in The Swamp, they played with a high motor, kept Tennessee in the game multiple times with hustle and focus, and held the Gators to mere 168 yards rushing. Concerns that Tennessee’s defense was going to fall apart when it faced legit talent should be put to bed. As the health of the group improves, the defense will put Tennessee in better and better shape.

MACHINE GUN KELLY:  Tennessee has a monster in running-back John Kelly. He’s twice as violent and consistent as ex-Vol Jalen Hurd. He’s easily as slippery and agile as Alvin Kamara. Forget the pass he dropped on Tennessee’s final drive. Kelly passionately carried Tennessee through this game, and the Vols RB room looks deeper and more stout by the game.

QUARTERBACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD: Quinten Dormady through a gorgeous touchdown to Ethan Wolf in the 4th quarter, and he did remain poised through hard times. Unfortunately, his miscues and poor decisions cost the Vols a lot. Tennessee got major help from John Kelly and from its defense, but Dormady simple has to deliver when these opportunities to prove his value arise. When Guarantano entered the game after Dormady tweaked his knee, you wondered if this was the moment where the redshirt freshman gets to show the “gamer” he claims to be. An offsides penalty would give Q a chance to return before the snap, sending Guarantano back to the bench, and the rest is history. 3 interceptions on this stage is hard to defend or overcome. At a point, Guarantano deserves a chance to play meaningful snaps.

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