'Meltdown' in kicking game

There was no use sugar-coating the performance of the kicking game in Tennessee's Saturday night loss at Florida, so head coach Phillip Fulmer didn't.

"I was really disappointed in the kicking game," he said on his Sunday afternoon teleconference. "There was really a meltdown from the kicking game standpoint."

True. Virtually nothing went right for the Vols. To wit:

- Tennessee returned the opening kickoff a mere 13 yards to its own 18-yard line.

- When Tennessee's second possession stalled at the Florida 38-yard line, the Vols had a chance to pin the Gators deep in their own territory. Freshman Britton Colquitt's punt sailed into the end zone, however, giving Florida a touchback and the ball on its 20-yard line.

- Wilhoit's kickoff following UT's first touchdown bounced out of bounds, giving Florida possession on its 35-yard line.

- A 36-yard Wilhoit field goal that could've given the Vols a 10-7 second-quarter lead was blocked.

- Jonathan Hefney fumbled Florida's first punt of the second half, setting up a Gator field goal.

- Chris Hannon returned Florida's subsequent kickoff a mere seven yards to the 19.

- Noting no defensive back lined up on Tennessee's "gunner" (outside receiver), Colquitt attempted a fourth-down pass from his own 31-yard line. A Florida safety broke up the pass, Florida took over on downs and booted another field goal moments later for a 13-7 lead.

- With another chance to pin Florida deep in its territory, Colquitt shanked a punt that carried just eight yards. Florida took advantage of the field position to score the game-clinching field goal.

Fulmer accepted blame for the fake punt, saying he should've conveyed to Colquitt that it's not an option at your own 31-yard line when playing in The Swamp … even if the gunner appears uncovered.

"In this particular case that wasn't intended to happen," Fulmer said. "It's my fault for not having communicated that with our young punter."

On the ill-fated field goal attempt, Fulmer said, "Timing is what got it blocked," adding that the noise at The Swamp may have contributed to this miscue.

The blocked kick ended a frantic series of events. Florida failed on a fourth-and-inches run at its 44-yard line. Tennessee took over on downs and quickly moved to the Gator 9-yard line, only to go backwards because of false-start and delay-of-game penalties. Erik Ainge appeared to hit Bret Smith with a 19-yard pass that carried to the Florida 1-foot line but officials negated the catch after replays showed the ball had touched the ground. The blocked field goal came on the very next play. So, instead of a sure seven points, Tennessee came away with nothing.

"That was a tremendous turnaround," Fulmer said.

Given all of the special teams blunders committed against Florida, the head man was asked what can be done to upgrade the kicking game.

"Obviously," he deadpanned, "don't fumble a punt."

Fulmer eventually hinted that UT may not have devoted quite enough time to special teams previously, noting: "The kicking game has our full attention now."


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