KNOXVILLE – On a night the Vols honored former running back/defensive back Johnny Majors, another player who wears No. 45 showed the ability to play offense and defense.
Sophomore A.J. Johnson, best known as the Vols’ top inside linebacker, doubled as a short-yardage Wildcat quarterback on two occasions. His first run gave the Vols a critical first down on a third-and-short situation. His second attempt was even better. He gave the Vols a 20-13 on a one-yard scoring run midway through the third quarter.
“That helped us a little bit on that third quarter drive, putting him in there in those short-yardage situations,” coach Derek Dooley said.
The Vols have struggled in short-yardage situations this season. None of Tennessee’s primary running backs weigh more than 210 pounds, leaving the team without a jumbo back for those scenarios.
Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound, former Wildcat quarterback at Gainesville (Ga.) High School, fit the bill perfectly Saturday.
“We put it in for the first game this season,” Johnson said. “I ran it in high school, so it wasn’t a big deal for me to come in and get a couple yards. I feel comfortable doing it. It’s just seeing the hole and hitting it.“
Johnson also had an impressive night on defense. He totaled 11 tackles, one tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries.
He wasn’t the only player to be used out of his normal position. Quarterback Tyler Bray also was called on to perform a quick kick in the first half. With the Vols facing a fourth down, the offense lined up in a shotgun formation.Bray, who was standing approximately two yards deeper than normal, took the snap and punted the ball 41 yards to the Florida 5. He became the first Tennessee quarterback to punt since Heath Shuler in 1992.
Driskel emerges at quarterback for Florida: Bray was supposed to be the quarterback putting up huge numbers on Saturday. Instead, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel had a coming-out party for the Gators in Neyland Stadium in what was only his second complete game as a starting quarterback. He completed 14-of-20 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 81 yards on the ground.
The 6-foot-4, 240-pound sophomore completed multiple difficult throws on the run to extend Florida drives. He was in command of the Gators’ offense all evening. That’s even more impressive considering he didn’t win the starting job until after the Gators’ season-opening win over Bowling Green.
“He made some gutsy plays and runs, and he's a tough kid and he was very accurate with the football,” said Florida coach Will Muschamp. “Again, I think the game will continue to slow down. He played extremely well.”
Injury update: Tennessee sophomore safety Brian Randolph was helped off the field early in the fourth quarter with an apparent leg injury.
Though the Vols did not have an immediate update on his status after the game, he was seen on crutches later in the fourth quarter and was unable to put any weight on his right leg. Junior Brent Brewer, a former starter, took his spot in the secondary.
Linebackers Curt Maggitt (toe) and Herman Lathers (shoulder) were both listed as questionable going into the game, but both started and played. Both were credited with five tackles.
Freshman receiver Pig Howard (foot) and Christian Harris (knee) both made their Tennessee debut on Saturday after dealing with injuries.
• Junior walk-on kicker Derrick Brodus was the No. 1 placekicker on Saturday, but he did not attempt any field goals. He hit two of his three extra-point attempts. His miss came in the third quarter when he hit the left upright.
• Florida’s 336 rushing yards were the most the Vols had given up since they gave up 359 to Ole Miss in 2009.
• After completing his first attempt of the game, Bray ended a streak of 14 straight completions dating back to last week with an incompletion on his second throw. He also ended a string of 65 throws without an interception when he threw one to Florida linebacker Lerentee McCray in the first quarter.
• Dooley is now 0-11 against teams in the AP Top-25 during his three-year tenure at Tennessee.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.