Riley Blevins' thoughts
Nathan Peterman's sideline expression went from wide-eyed to fist-pumping to dejected – all in one quarter.
Tennessee's game-time decision to start the redshirt freshman sparked optimism. It appeared to breath a life into a otherwise listless offense.
But after a handful of drives, Vols fans were begging for Justin Worley. It sounds unthinkable. But it was that bad.
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The Peterman start crashed and burned. There's no other way to say it. Put in the words Butch Jones, "It is what it is."
The Peterman-helmed Vols had four turnovers in the first half – the same amount of completion's Peterman threw. He tallied just 5 yards through the air in his lone half of football.
Peterman stood flat footed in the pocket, frozen like a statue. He starred at targets and labored through progressions. He looked nearly incapable of completing a pass. In his lone zone-read keeper, he was chased down from behind.
To make matters worse, Peterman's supporting cast didn't answer the call to pickup the slack. The Vols etched 26 rushing yards in the first half. All week, Tennessee coaches said the game would be decided between the tackles.
But it wasn't just the running game that failed to produce. Passes were dropped. Blocks were missed. It was a nightmare afternoon-turned-dawn for the Tennessee offense.
No, Worley isn't about to single-handedly beat an SEC foe. Not by any means. Perhaps he won't even win the hearts of Vol fans. But he managed the game.
Sure, Worley sailed targets and underthrew others, but he gave the offense a chance. He got the ball out of his hands much quicker. Worley was 10-of-23 for 149 yards. He tossed two picks, but at in that stage of a game, shots must be taken.
Yes, Tennessee's defense made a former Scout two-star in Tyler Murphy look like Johnny Football after starting quarterback Jeff Driskel hobbled to the locker room. He diced up poor zone discipline and darted past man coverage. Murphy scampered for 90 yards and threw for 134 more.
It's hard to blame Tennessee's defense. It was gassed.
Several turnovers and three-and-outs rushed the defense back onto the field nearly as soon as they reached the comfort of the sideline. The defense held its own and then some in the first half.
Devaun Swafford's 62-yard pick-six obviously stands as the highlight, but the Vols slowed the Gators in more subtle ways.
Cameron Sutton and Brian Randolph played physical at the line of scrimmage. Linebackers soared from sideline to sideline. Corners were tested, and answered for the most part. It was a manageable 17-7 game at halftime.
Michael Palardy split the up-rights on a 44-yard field goal. He sent several kickoffs deep into the end zone. He continues to look like a new player. Coverage teams continue to haunt the special teams. The Gators racked up 131 return yards.
Defense — C –
Offense — F
Special teams — B
Randy Moore's thoughts
Fans who said Tennessee's offense "couldn't get any worse" with a different quarterback found out differently Saturday at The Swamp.
Supplanting junior Justin Worley, redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman had a college debut he'll never forget. God knows he'll try, though. Peterman completed just 4 of 11 pass attempts for 5 yards in the first half. Worse, he lost a fumble and two interceptions that Florida parlayed into 17 points of its 24-10 halftime lead.
Worley took over for the second half and, while he wasn't great, he did manage to generate more points for Tennessee than he did for Florida. He finished 10 of 23 for 149 yards and a touchdown. Worley also threw a couple of picks but one came on a Hail Mary in the final seconds.
As expected, Florida's vaunted defense shut down a sputtering Vol offense. The Gators forced six Big Orange turnovers (four interceptions, two fumbles) and limited Tennessee to 66 net rushing yards on 23 carries.
The Big Orange defense produced its second TD of the season when nickel back Devaun Swafford, a freshman walk-on, picked off a Jeff Driskel throw and returned it 62 yards for a first-quarter score. Other than Swafford's pick six and some quality play by safety Brian Randolph, however, Tennessee's defense was abysmal. After Jeff Driskel left with a first-quarter injury, the Vols made second-team quarterback Tyler Murphy, look like a poor man's Marcus Mariota. He finished with 10 carries for 84 yards and a TD while also finding time to complete 8 of 14 passes for 134 yards and another TD.
Michael Palardy booted a 44-yard field goal and had a good day punting the ball. Tennessee's coverage units were reasonably solid. When the offense and defense are as inept as the Vols' were on Saturday, however, you aren't going to beat a decent SEC team on the road.
Defense — D
Offense — D
Special teams — B
Danny Parker's thoughts
Every break that Tennessee needed to end its eight-game losing streak took place, including seeing a quarterback change out of Florida and a defensive touchdown. However, it wasn't enough to overcome mistakes made.
It's easy to look back at games and say what the Volunteers should have done. Should they simply line up and try to pound teams between the tackles from here on out? Perhaps. An answer for the passing game doesn't seem to exist for this season. Tennessee needed only not go backwards and not turn the ball over deep in Florida territory to get points and failed on more than one occasion. In a game where 20 points may have won it, those were immense opportunities lost.
Alton Howard and Marquez North are starting to show life as Vol playmakers. Few others showed the same in The Swamp (Rajion Neal wasn't terrible). The Vols also converted 5 of 13 first downs, which is more than twice what Florida had allowed on the year.
The Tennessee defense generate three takeaways and allowing 382 total yards isn't getting just blown away. I'll maintain that Corey Vereen is going to be an All-SEC end. Cameron Sutton makes plays. The team must find an answer at nickelback.
On special teams, nothing stuck out to me negatively. The botched punt by the Gators was attacked and earned the Vols a quick flip in field position. Michael Palardy averaged 41.7 per punt and made his longest field goal in two years I believe.
Defense — C
Offense — D-
Special teams — B
Josh Woodward's thoughts
It is fairly obvious on the field that Tennessee has a ways to go. They just don't have the playmakers needed to succeed at the top of the SEC. Coach Jones and his staff were handed this deck of cards and they are playing them to their best ability. Florida likely has the best defensive team in the country.
I look back at this game and wonder what if. What if they had started Worley instead of Peterman would the outcome been different. I for one thought that Peterman deserved the chance to start this game, but I would have never imagined this would have happened. I guess the game management label on Worley is going to have to do for this team. Peterman just isn't ready; they need to stick with Worley.
Offensively today was a disaster, but you have to give Florida credit they created the pressure and took the opportunities the Vols gave them. Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane both ran the ball hard. Pig Howard made some good catches and got behind the defense. Tennessee really needs Howard to improve and become the go to guy on offense. I would take out the zone read out of the play book, I believe it is hurting Tennessee in the run game by delaying the running back getting to the hole.
Defensively I thought this team played really well. They stayed on the field all day and got thrown a curve ball when Driskel went out with the injury and Florida went with a mobile quarterback in Tyler Murphy. I thought that Brian Randolph is playing at another level; he is looking more like a Sunday guy in my opinion. Cameron Sutton held his own today with the speedy Florida receivers.
Special teams had a workman like day considering how good Florida usually is on teams. Palardy hitting a forty-four yard field goal and his punting average was 41.7. Coverage wasn't great, but they didn't give up a touchdown which is an improvement from last few years.
Defense — C
Offense — F
Special teams — B