By Jimmy Hyams
Beware of the backup quarterback.
Florida has beaten Tennessee 14 of the last 15 meetings and the No. 2 guy calling signals has helped the Gators win quite a few of those games.
From Tim Tebow to Treon Harris to Tyler Murphy to, now, Kyle Trask, those quarterbacks couldn’t initially win the job at Florida but found a way to win against Tennessee. This time it was Florida 34-3 as the Vols scored their fewest points against the Gators since being shutout in 1994.
It helps Florida that Tennessee is in the midst of its worst decade in school history.
It also helps that Tennessee can’t line up right on defense, can’t avoid turnovers and crucial penalties, can’t compete at the line of scrimmage and can’t find a quarterback.
And can’t beat a top 10 team. You’ve got to go back to 2006 to find the last time the Vols beat a team ranked in the top 10.
Trask is the latest backup-quarterback-giant-killer to face the Vols. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. He picked the Vols apart over the middle as UT’s linebackers were either blitzing or out of place.
I outlined six keys for the Vols to beat Florida. UT didn’t hit any of them.
- Quarterback Jarrett Guarantano must play well. He was benched at halftime. He finished 10 of 17 for 107 yards and two interceptions – although one came on a dropped pass. He threw only three picks last year – two against Florida.
- Avoid third-and-long. UT had third downs of 13, 14, 7, 16, 8, 11, 10, 10 – then I stopped counting.
- Rush for 125 yards. UT rushed for 88 yards on 27 carries.
- First-down production. On 22 first down snaps, UT gained at least 5 yards 11 times, which isn’t bad. The problem was on second down, which led to many third-and-longs.
- Plus-two in the turnover margin. UT lost that battle 4-3.
- Force Florida into third-and-long. That didn’t happen enough. I charted Florida with two third downs of at least 6 yards.
While Florida is ranked in the top 10, it didn’t have its starting quarterback, best cornerback and best pass rusher. Yet, it still managed to blow out the Vols.
The embarrassing loss Saturday in The Swamp leaves little reason for UT to be optimistic going forward. The Vols could easily be 1-6 before facing South Carolina Oct. 26.
If so, how much fight will the Vols have?
How many fans will attend home games?
How will coach Jeremy Pruitt handle the adversity? He’s not used to failure as a coach.
Get this: He’s lost 10 games as UT’s head coach. In his previous six seasons as an assistant at three schools, he lost nine games.
In UT’s last six games, it has lost three by at least 25 points, lost to Georgia State (which lost 57-10 to Western Michigan) and lost to BYU when UT didn’t go into a prevent defense late in the game.
Still, Pruitt contends the Vols have good players. Does he really believe that? Or is he trying to make sure his players don’t lose total confidence?
How about this for a revealing post-game quote from Pruitt:
“We’ve got some really good football players on our team,’’ Pruitt said. “And we have some guys with lots of potential.
“But we don’t have many guys that can play winning football right now. We’ve got to get them to where they can do that.’’
Tennessee did it against ranked Auburn last year. The Vols did it against ranked Kentucky last year.
How many times can they do that this season?
Time will tell.
After an open date, the Vols host No. 3 Georgia on Saturday – not exactly the recipe for a turnaround.