GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Tennessee fell 31-17 at Florida on Saturday after turning the ball over six times.
Here are some position-by-position grades:
It was a rough, rough starting debut for redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman. He was involved in two fumble in the first five snaps and threw two more interceptions. He ended up with just four completions on 11 attempts for 5 yards. Justin Worley, the starter before Saturday, did a better job in the second half. He made a couple of nice throws and ended up with 149 yards and a touchdown. He did throw two interceptions, but one came in desperation time and the other was on a ball he was trying to throw away. It’ll be another week of looking for answers at this spot for the Vols.
Running backs: C-
Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane didn’t have many chances. Their combined 23 carries netted just 66 yards. Playing from behind most of the game, UT didn’t have a ton of opportunities to establish the run game. It could’ve been worse against an elite defensive front, but it certainly wasn’t a notable effort.
Wide receivers/tight ends: C
Marquez North and Pig Howard showed some signs that they can develop into reliable options. Howard, especially, had a good night, pulling in four grabs for 75 yards and four touchdowns. The Vols are looking to get North more involved. He caught four passes for 43 yards and also ran a reverse for 9 yards. It was a rough night for freshman Josh Smith, who had a bad drop and was replaced by Jason Croom.
Offensive line: D+
This unit only gave up one sack, but it was a costly one that gave Florida the ball inside the 10. There was pressure on UT’s quarterback quite frequently and the run game was pedestrian as well. The Vols averaged just 2.9 yards per carry in the contest. Again, this is a group that Tennessee needs to dominate and, against top defenses to this point, it hasn’t.
Defensive line: B-
The Vols didn’t register any sacks, but they got enough pressure to disrupt Florida on multiple occasions. Devaun Swafford’s interception was set up by a good pass rush. The defensive ends found their way into the backfield somewhat regularly and the tackles held up well against runs up the middle. Florida found most of its success getting outside. The ends need to do a better job of containing going forward.
The starting trio of A.J. Johnson, Dontavis Sapp and Brent Brewer combined for 26 total tackles. Despite a few missed tackles, it was an overall solid day for this group. They did get beat to the edge a few times and had a few missed assignments, but they were active and did a good job keeping Tennessee in the game despite all of the early turnovers.
It’s not the best tackling bunch in the SEC, but the coverage was pretty good against Florida. Add in Swafford’s pick-six, 11 tackles (2 TFLs) by Brian Randolph and a fumble recovery by cornerback Cameron Sutton and it was an overall solid day for this group. The only glaring error came when Florida receiver Solomon Patton took a quick pass, juked Swafford and outran the secondary for a 52-yard touchdown. Outside of that, Florida made a couple great catches, but there weren’t any other huge busts in the secondary.
Special teams: B
Butch Jones was upset with some of the “hidden yardage” Florida got in the return game. All in all, though, it was a pretty good effort on special teams. Michael Palardy hit a season-long field goal of 44 yards and did a good job punting and kicking off. Other than a 38-yard kickoff return, the kick coverage was really good as well. The Vols also capitalized on a dropped snap by Florida punter Kyle Christy, who wasn’t able to get the punt off before Vincent Dallas got to him.
It’s fair to question Jones’ decision to make a quarterback switch this week. Hindsight is 20/20, though, and the reality is that UT’s offense needed a shot in the arm and he thought Peterman could do that. Obviously, it didn’t work out the way he wanted. The most frustrating aspect of the game for UT is that Florida made enough mistakes to give the Vols a chance to pull off the upset, but the Vols still couldn't do it. However, credit Tennessee for battling in the second half against a superior opponent. It wasn’t pretty, but at least the final score was about what most expected. It could’ve been worse. There’s also a lot of room for improvement.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga