KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — After missing Florida’s game last weekend with a quad injury, star sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway made his presence felt immediately Saturday at Tennessee.
For better and worse.
Callaway hauled in a 51-yard completion from Austin Appleby on the game’s opening series, helping to set up a touchdown.
But he then dropped a punt while signaling for a fair catch right in front of the Gators’ goal line on the next series. Tennessee recovered at the 2, and while the defense kept the Vols off the scoreboard with a fourth-down stand, the bigger issue was Callaway chose to field a punt that close to the goal line.
The even bigger issue is he did the same thing again late in the fourth quarter, successfully corralling a fair catch at the Florida 2.
If he lets those drop, the Gators likely end up with touchbacks.
“Twice. It’s not very smart,” head coach Jim McElwain said. “He caught the one right there at the 8 that we wanted him to. Heels are on the 8, don’t go backwards.”
McElwain wasn’t pleased in general with the mental mistakes in the return game Saturday.
“Same thing with Lamical (Perine) on the last kickoff return that made us go long field. He was 5 to 6 (yards) in, so we were going to hold it in, but you’ve got guys that want to go make plays. And yet, they’ve got to understand that you don’t do it by yourself. You do your job,” McElwain said.
“It’s really an interesting thing. Once you start to get a bunch of guys that are out there trying to do their own thing, that’s when it fails, especially in a team game. Now, you want to go play tennis and be singles, go do that, but this ain’t tennis.”
As for Callaway, there were plenty of positives, as well. He was every bit the playmaking receiver he’s been in each game he’s played this fall, hauling in 4 catches for a career-high 134 yards.
Powell ejection to be reviewed
Junior wide receiver Brandon Powell was ejected in the fourth quarter for throwing a punch, as it was announced at the time.
Except the television replay clearly showed he did not throw a punch as Tennessee defensive back Rashaan Gaulden took a dive as Powell motioned toward him.
“I didn’t see anything. We’ll find out and I’ll see it on film,” McElwain said.
By rule, the SEC will review the play that led to the ejection in regard to any potential suspension that would carry over into the next game.
Powell was a non-factor Saturday with just 1 catch for 9 yards. Overall, though, he has a team-high 14 catches this season for 136 yards and 2 touchdowns.
In giving an injury update after the game, McElwain made an interesting statement about players using minor ailments as an excuse.
“Here’s what will be interesting and you can go ahead and write this,” he said. “We’ll see how these guys respond as to who’s really hurt. That will tell you a lot, you know what I mean? Sometimes guys get feeling sorry for themselves and all of a sudden that little injury that is no big deal all of a sudden becomes … look, this ain’t my first rodeo, I’ve seen this stuff, OK?
“So, this is going to test a lot of guys in that locker room to see who we are and see what we’re made of, and I’ll be interested to see.”
He didn’t give any indication as to who he might be speaking about with that pointed statement.
As for the injury updates, senior wide receiver/kick returner Chris Thompson injured his hamstring.
“He could only run down, I think, on one or two. He popped that string again,” McElwain said.
Callaway looked to be hurting a couple times during the game, but McElwain said he’s “going to be OK.”
Freshman defensive back Chauncey Gardner incurred a shoulder injury. It’s not clear if that will linger into next week.
McElwain did not, however, mention junior cornerback Jalen Tabor, who appeared to injure his hand at one point and who later was tended to on the field for what looked like cramping in his leg. He exited the game and headed back to the locker room after that before later returning to action.
Rushing game stalls
After averaging 249.5 yards on the ground during the previous two games, the Gators were held to a season-low 106 rushing yards Saturday.
Worse, they managed only 19 yards on 13 carries after halftime.
Sophomore Jordan Scarlett had a team-high 44 rushing yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Sophomore Jordan Cronkrite added 5 catches for 26 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 13 yards.