Florida thumped Tennessee but all was not lost

Marvin Westwestwords

Big-league football has no time for alibis or excuses. Game over and the next one is coming. Those in or near the combat zone know you are what the numbers say you are.

The rest of us have some interest in appearances and circumstances. We waste a few minutes on what might have been. We acknowledge never-give-up competitiveness. Losses hurt a little less when your team hangs in there.

Florida again thumped Tennessee and that’s that. It got a late touchdown to cover the 20-point betting line. The Vols are 2-2 and will be underdogs at Missouri on Saturday. Injuries are a projected problem. Disciple and focus are pains. Penalties (10 this time) are an on-going plague.

Florida was better but, believe me, this was not a rout, nothing like Georgia 62-0 over Vanderbilt. The Volunteers were not intimidated by the Swamp. They ran at the Gators instead of from them and they were still trying when time expired.

They did contribute to their demise. They made some serious errors. They are now part owners of the gosh-awful record, nine consecutive losses in Gainesville, 16 setbacks in 17 games here and there.

Florida coach Dan Mullen, a gracious winner, said Tennessee “was a different-looking team” compared to what he saw from the Vols last year.

“How they played, the intensity, the toughness, the physicalness, I give them some credit. I think they’re a much-improved football team.”

Tennessee coach Josh Heupel didn’t sound panic-stricken. He said he was disappointed. He recalled opportunities missed, a routine chance to tie before intermission and some genuine openings in the 21-0 second half.

“Didn’t play smart football down the stretch.”

He could have said more but the coach does not throw players under the bus.

I thought one play made an enormous difference, third quarter, middle minutes, Gators up, 24-14. Tennessee’s 14-play drive had gained 56 yards to fourth-and-five at the Florida 30. Heupel said go for it. There was nothing else to do.

Hendon Hooker’s short pass looked perfect. Receiver Jimmy Calloway was wide open. There was an easy first down in front of him. He most likely could have scored, cut the deficit to three and changed the world.

Jimmy dropped the ball.

Florida took a deep breath, took over on downs and finished off the game.

Some other bad things happened. The Vol defense that had exceeded expectations took a step backwards. It could not capture or even contain Emory Jones. He ran for 144 yards and completed 21 of 27 for 209 and two touchdowns. Not since Tim Tebow has a Florida quarterback combined 200 and 100. It was important that Emory played turnover-free.

Tennessee center Cooper Mays tried to play too long on one good leg. Lacking official injury information, I’m guessing he’ll miss Missouri.

The punting team produced a disaster. Florida returner Xavier Henderson was late signaling for a fair catch but Jimmy Holiday ran over him before the ball arrived. Flags flew. Additional flags followed. Holiday, charged with interfering with the catch, was ejected for targeting.

There was more. Young linebacker William Mohan was accused of unsportsmanlike conduct. I don’t know what he said but I understand the agony.

All that cost only 30 yards. Other penalties raised the total loss to 85.

The Vol secondary got caught on the short end of lost and found. Jones threw a lateral pass to wide receiver Trent Whittemore who threw a downfield pass to a very lonesome teammate, Kemore Gamble. The fancy play produced 13 yards and a touchdown. It could have gone to Miami.

Hooker did several things well. He was adequate on passing accuracy, 13 of 23 for 221 yards and two touchdowns. One was a beautiful bomb, a 75-yarder to JaVonta Payton. If you can find a photo, frame it. It was the longest Tennessee pass play since Oct. 30, 2015.

Alas, Hooker took a very harsh hit trying to rescue a flea-flicker gone bad. Medical professionals sent him to the dressing room, out of harm’s way. Joe Milton took his place.

Difficulty continues. If Tennessee is going to win three SEC games this season, it needs to get one this Saturday. Take my word for it – that won’t be easy. Missouri is thinking much the same way.

The Tigers are sure to be in a bad mood. They found a way to lose at Boston College.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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