KNOXVILLE – When the Vols look back on the 2012 season, it will be difficult to find a more costly play than Florida’s 75-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jeff Driskel to receiver Frankie Hammond in the fourth quarter.
It gave the Gators a 14-point lead, essentially sealing their win. It also was the play were sophomore safety Brian Randolph went down with an injury. It turned out to be a torn ACL, and Randolph will be lost for the season, coach Derek Dooley confirmed on Monday.
“I hurt for Brian, but he’ll be fine and we’ll move on,” Dooley said at his weekly press conference Monday afternoon.
Randolph had been one of the most consistent players on defense the last two seasons. Dooley has referred to him as “the quarterback of the secondary” in the past, and has praised him numerous times for his leadership and consistent play.
In 15 career games – 12 of them starts – Randolph piled up 77 tackles, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and four pass deflections. He was a 2011 SEC Coaches All-Freshman team selection and garnered numerous other conference and national freshman honors last season.
The task of replacing him falls mainly on junior Brent Brewer, who was a starter last season before tearing his ACL against South Carolina in October. Brewer has appeared in 24 games with 14 starts in his three years in Knoxville. He’ll give the Vols more size at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, but he doesn’t have the range of Randolph (6-foot, 195 pounds).
Dooley also indicated that the Vols don’t have any immediate other changes on the depth chart in the secondary, but he does plan on utilizing a lot of players on Saturday against Akron in an effort to find more who can help.
He mentioned freshman cornerbacks Daniel Gray and Deion Bonner, sophomore cornerback Justin Coleman, senior safety Rod Wilks and freshman safety LaDarrell McNeil as players who need to step up after the secondary struggled to prevent Florida from multiple long scoring plays on Saturday.
"We're not going to go into a total panic because we've been playing pretty good back there,” Dooley said. “We had a stretch of bad plays. I don't think it necessarily defines who we are, it defines what we did and what we did poorly.”
Kicker spot back up for grabs: Kickers Derrick Brodus and Michael Palardy are listed as co-starters on the official depth chart for the Akron game. Brodus, a walk-on, made his first career start against Florida. He made two of his three extra points, but the overall lack of consistency leaves the position still in flux.
"I don't know the answer to the kicker question right now other than we have to keep doing a better job with him on game day to go out there and not worry about missing a kick,” Dooley said. “We have the imps right now on PAT.”
Bray learning to manage frustration: After completing 21 of his first 32 passes, quarterback Tyler Bray completed only one of his last nine on Saturday. Dooley acknowledged that frustration with being behind might have played a role in that.
“It's not fair to say that he shuts it down, he doesn't,” Dooley said. “But when he gets frustrated and things that are out of his control start bothering him, he doesn't perform as well. He knows that. He'll grow from it and learn from it. Nobody wants to play well more than Tyler.”
The Gators, who were with a lead at that point, also were able to adjust their defense to prevent Bray from completing any deep passes and were able to focus on rushing the passes.
“When the game turns like that, it's the same thing we did against NC State,” Dooley said. “It energizes the other team. It changes their strategy. They're now pinning their ears back coming. It gets tougher. They're running all their games. The secondary is sinking. They're playing 33 double cloud (deep zone). Everything changes from a strategic standpoint at that point.”
“Wow” statistics: A couple of stats that are indicative of some of the Vols' struggles in the kicking game and in the second half:
• The Vols have been outscored 149-26 in the second half of their last eight SEC games.
• There have been only seven missed extra points in the SEC this season, and three of them are from Tennessee kickers. That means the Vols are responsible for 42.8 percent of the extra point misses in the conference this year.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.