In a 16-7 loss to SEC East rival Florida on Saturday night in The Swamp, the Volunteers rushed for only 66 yards and threw for 147 on a lackluster 16 of 35 combined effort by Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen.
The resulting single touchdown was not enough to subdue the Gators, who played inspired despite UT's impressive defensive effort that nearly stifled Urban Meyer's spread offense.
Florida rushed for only 68 yards, but the play of quarterback Chris Leak was the difference in the outcome, along with Tennessee's miscues on special teams that resulted in three Gator field goals that sealed the victory.
"I thought the defense played hard," UT senior linebacker Kevin Simon said. "We made a couple of more mistakes than they did and in the end, they just came out on top."
Simon wouldn't point fingers at an ineffective offense or special teams play that resulted in at least two Florida scores, but he did say field position was a factor in the defense giving up three field goals to the Gators.
"We're all one team," he said. "If special teams breaks down, I feel their pain. We did a good job (on defense) of keeping them out of the end zone, but field position could have played a role in (the loss)."
Head coach Phillip Fulmer wasn't nearly so diplomatic.
"I'm proud of our defensive effort. We got a good look at their plan during the open date," Fulmer said. "Offensively, we didn't play well enough to win and in the kicking game, we certainly did not.
"It's a tough loss but not the end of the season. But with the schedule that we have, we're going to have to play a lot better on offense to get some wins."
That improved play will have to start soon, with No. 3 LSU looming next weekend.
The Vols expected to have a sound ground game this season, with veterans in the offensive line and senior Gerald Riggs in the backfield. But the Gators ganged up on the run and forced UT's dual quarterbacks to the air.
At first, Ainge seemed to be more effective than Clausen, marching the Vols down the field for a score to tie the game at 7-7 midway through the second quarter, but that drive could not be duplicated against the Florida defense.
"They were giving us the outside man-to-man all night," Ainge said. "But we left too many plays on the field."
That was also the theme of Tennessee's opener with UAB, but the ensuing two weeks did little to correct what seem to be major problems with the offensive line and the receiving corps.
"We've got some really fine receivers" Fulmer said. "I don't know exactly (what's wrong)."
Florida's offense was just as ineffective on the ground, but the Gators were given more red zone opportunities by untimely mistakes committed by Tennessee's special teams.
"I don't remember this many mistakes in a single game," Fulmer said. "We didn't communicate well enough, but that's no one's fault but mine."
Meyer had a similar tale to tell of his offense and defense, although being on the winning side made it more palatable.
"Our offensive line did not play well tonight, and they have to get better," Meyer said. "Chris made some tremendous plays when he had to, and I thought our special teams did well."
Leak, whose potential has always been apparent but who had to settle for two straight losses to the Vols until now, was ecstatic.
"It was awesome. Our guys played great," Leak said.