GAINESVILLE, Fla. — There was plenty of blame to go around in the Tennessee locker room and on the Vols sideline Saturday afternoon.
Coach Butch Jones took on most of it, suggesting he has to do a better job preparing his staff and team to execute in Red Zone and goal-line situations after a 26-20 loss at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Florida won on the last play of the game off a broken play when QB Feleipe Franks scrambled and threw a 63-yard game-winning TD pass to Tyrie Cleveland.
“It’s on me,” Jones said. “We have to do a better job on our overall discipline, our fundamentals, our details.”
Tennessee QB Quinten Dormady struggled most of the day, unable to find his rhythm with Florida’s defensive front putting pressure on him, and Vols’ receivers struggling to beat press coverage.
Dormady was 21-of-39 passing for 259 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. The junior from Texas was ineffective as a rusher, netting just 1 yard on four carries.
It’s up to Jones and his retooled coaching staff to get on the same page and coach up the players.
A warm-up game with Massachusetts is on deck next Saturday before the brunt of the SEC schedule begins at Neyland Stadium against Georgia.
“It’s a team that hurts,” Jones said, asked about the scene in the UT locker room. “You’ve got to build upon this opportunity. It’s hard at this point and time, but it has to make you stronger. You have to build from it, and it has to drive you that much more.”
The Vols out-gained Florida 442 yards to 380, but Tennessee coaches, players and fans know Saturday’s game should not have come down to the final play.
Twice, Tennessee was inside the Florida 20-yard line in the third quarter, only to come up with no points. The Red Zone play-calling and short-yardage execution was subpar.
The Vols had a first-and-goal at the Gators’ 1-yard line midway through the third quarter, but Dormady threw incomplete on first down, and then a late snap led to a motion penalty moving the ball back to just inside the 6.
Three plays later, after two incompletions, Dormady got his wires crossed on an option route with freshman WR Josh Palmer and was intercepted
“You can’t have that when you go on the road,” Jones said. “You know, when it’s all about winning football, you can’t do that.
“We did not make the critical plays in the end zone and the red zone, that we needed to.”
Tennessee, still trailing 6-3 later in the third quarter, reached the Florida 17 on its next drive.
But again, a penalty moved the Vols back 10 yards, and then Dormady was sacked for another 6-yard loss. A missed 51-yard field goal ensued, and Tennessee lost its momentum.
The Vols final offensive drive in the fourth quarter reached the 9-yard line, first-and-goal. Three incomplete passes later, Tennessee settled for a game-tying field goal.
In all, the Vols ran seven plays inside the Florida 10-yard line, and none of them were run plays.
Tailback John Kelly finished with 19 carries for 141 yards along with his six catches for 96 yards.
Jones would not second-guess new offensive coordinator Larry Scott when asked about not running the ball from the 1-yard line, and what he might suggest Scott do differently the next time the team is in that situation.
“I’m not gonna tell UMass or Georgia what we’re going to run,” Jones said. “You got the ball first-and-goal on the 1, hindsight is 20-20, you’re thinking we’ve got four downs (from the 1-yard line). We would have went for it.
“(But) you have to execute, You can’t make those mistakes and we’ll learn from it,” he said. “I”m proud of our players. Everybody believed we were going to win the football game and played hard.”