Then everything came unglued. Vols quarterback Tyler Bray was flagged for intentional grounding after pleading that Justin Hunter instead ran the wrong route. From there on Tennessee gained just 53 yards of offense.
"I felt like guys were looking at the scoreboard too much instead of just saying ‘lets regroup and let's continue to go,'" Antonio Richardson said. "With our offense, I felt like it was only a two-possession game, I felt like we had enough time to get the game close or even win. Just getting guys to the mindset that no matter how far we are down or how much adversity we face we just have to keep on playing."
There was a noticeable level of frustration from quarterback Tyler Bray, who finished the game 22 of 44 for 257 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, but Dooley said it was mainly shocked that affected everyone on his football team.
"I think it is fair to say that when we went down 14 there was a level, not just in Tyler, but in everybody, of shock," Dooley said. "I think there was a level of shock. We are sitting there in command of the game and all of a sudden 21 points go on the board before we can catch our breath.
"Tyler made a lot of great throws in this game and even when all that was happening made some really good throws and then he made some throws that weren't so good. He didn't play his best game, but it is another step for him."
Dooley also attributed the second-half meltdown to several coaching errors, including the wearing of the Vols skill-position players on offense.
"We probably played our skill guys too much. I know we did," Dooley said. "(Justin) Hunter and (Cordarrelle Patterson) had over 70 snaps, (Mychal) Rivera has too many snaps, Rajion (Neal) had too many snaps and that is my fault."
Communication killing Vol 'D'
Gameday set. Top 25 ranking. Sellout crowd. National television.
Looking to throw a haymaker at the naysayers and get back into the elite tier of the Southeastern Conference, Tennessee certainly had the stage to do so with then-No. 18 Florida in town Saturday.
The Volunteers appeared to feed off the energy and were primed to snap their seven-game losing streak to their hated rivals.
After 50 minutes, 5 seconds of action, it was still a one-score game against the Gators.
Then, adversity hit. The wheels flew off.
Tennessee squandered an opportunity to win back at least a portion of its "good-times" fan base. However, linebacker Jacques Smith says the team itself didn't squander anything.
"No, definitely not at all," the junior from Ooltewah said. "We've already turned the mental curve for our program to knowing we're a good team, we're a good ball team and this is a good ballclub. We know what we can do. We've just got to be able to prove it in certain situations. It came to the fourth quarter and the opportunity was just lost by us and we didn't take initiative enough to make things happen in our favor."
|Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri and the Volunteers have some cleaning up to do with their communication before Akron comes to Neyland Stadium.|
Several Vol defenders pointed at better communication being the key for history to not repeat itself going forward.
"It was a lot of good noise, but we didn't communicate well enough," linebacker Curt Maggitt said. "We didn't the calls all around. Even when we did get the calls, we didn't adjust well."
Now the Vols must go to work correcting their mental breakdowns and get more speed in the back end.
The fact that the depth has a former starter replacing an injured starter is a sign of the progress the organization has made. Brian Randolph, who leads the Vols with 22 tackles, is out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. However, Brent Brewer is slated to step right into the back end of the Big Orange defense.
"(Randolph) does a lot back there," linebacker A.J. Johnson said. "I know we have players who can fill in and take his role. I know he's a great player, but somebody has to step up and take his place."
With 20 stops to his credit, Johnson is now tied for the lead in tackles among healthy players, next to safety Byron Moore.
"A.J. is a playmaker," said Maggitt, who noted that Johnson is roughly 12 pounds lighter than this time last year. "He's always around the ball. He's a ball hawk."
Tennessee will want to have its pre-snap aligning in order for a shifting offense.
The Akron offense enters Saturday averaging 496 yards of total offense per game. Quarterback Dalton Williams is completing 61.8 percent of his passes for 334.7 yards per contest.
"Coach Dooley emphasized in our meeting this morning that this isn't just another team — they're good, they're fast, they're athletic at certain positions and they can make big plays just like we can."
Scroll down for video coverage from several Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley and select players from the Neyland-Thompson Sports Complex on Monday: