published Monday, September 17th, 2012

Florida loss has UT regrouping before facing tough stretch of ranked SEC foes

Florida Gators wide receiver Quinton Dunbar (1) is tackled by Tennessee Volunteers linebacker Herman Lathers (34) in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Florida Gators wide receiver Quinton Dunbar (1) is tackled by Tennessee Volunteers linebacker Herman Lathers (34) in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

RANDOLPH UPDATE

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley did not provide an update on safety Brian Randolph during his television show Sunday morning. The Volunteers' junior suffered a non-contact injury in the fourth quarter of Saturday night's loss to Florida and left the field on crutches. Dooley will update the injury at his weekly news conference at noon.

"It doesn't look good," he said Sunday. "He's our quarterback back there. If we lose him, it's going to be a tough loss."

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KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's football team found itself in a familiar spot on Sunday.

The Volunteers are picking up the pieces after another early-season loss to rival Florida, their eighth straight in the series.

Despite being in a good position to extend a lead late in the third quarter, Tennessee collapsed on both sides of the ball and now must regroup and clean up plenty of mistakes.

"We'll go back to the drawing board," senior linebacker Herman Lathers said after the Vols' 37-20 loss to the Gators. "Guys know what's at stake: It's just one game. We came a long way since last year, but this game is not going to hurt us.

"A lot of things happened in the past, but the past is over, this is a new team, I'm a new leader and we've got a lot of great leaders on this team that's going to step up and make sure things that happened last year won't happen this year."

Tennessee has a perfect opportunity for a rebound game with Akron, a Mid-American Conference program that won one game in 2011, coming to Knoxville next weekend. The ensuing six weeks of the season, though, are daunting, as the Vols face trips to fifth-ranked Georgia, 23rd-ranked Mississippi State and seventh-ranked South Carolina and host top-ranked Alabama. The only respite is Tennessee's bye week.

Saturday night was just one game of 12, but the unraveling was disappointing.

"The sky's not going to fall tomorrow," third-year coach Derek Dooley said. "We're going to have to learn from it. We've got to move on.

"We've got to make sure we don't make those kind of mistakes again in a game. I said this, we're going to be in a lot of four-quarter games. We've got to be able to execute in the fourth."

The problem areas are easy to identify. Tennessee's defense surrendered 555 yards to Florida, and most of that damage came on 13 plays of 14 or more yards. The Gators' speed and quarterback Jeff Driskel's play deserves credit for those big plays. At other times, though, the Vols communicated poorly, missed an assignment, failed to make a tackle or let Florida get to the perimeter.

"It's a breakdown by the whole defense," Lathers said. "It's not one person. We play as a unit, and we don't point the finger, we all take the blame for it and we've just got to get better from it.

"We had a great week practice. We knew exactly what they were going to do and how they were going to do it. We knew our checks and their motions and who was going to take us to the ball."

Tennessee's offense got away too quickly from a running game that was having modest success. Tailback Rajion Neal, who finished with 87 yards on 23 carries, had 11 runs of four or more yards and just six zero- or negative-yardage runs before the Vols' funk. Tennessee ran the ball 23 times in 56 plays during the game's first 35 minutes and Vols ran it just twice in 16-play stretch as the Gators took over the game.

"I thought we were running it pretty good," Dooley said while looking at the game's decisive sequence on the play-by-play sheet. "This is when probably we need to settle that thing down and get that run game going. We had some things we were going to do in the second half running the football that we never really got to [do].

"We couldn't get that first down to get us going, and I guess we should have opened the drive with some of that stuff."

The Vols will address the errors in practice this week, but the players know they must avoid them on the field to produce the outcome.

"Win ball games," Bray said. "These fans don't care what we do on the practice field or anything like that. They just care if we win ball games."

Tennessee has nine of those left on the schedule, and the Vols hardly can afford to let the disappointment that was evident after Saturday night's loss linger.

"It's definitely surprising, and it's definitely frustrating," said linebacker Jacques Smith. "We have a great team this year. I believe in my team, and I believe in our defense, and I believe in our quarterback.

"I feel like this team is totally different, and we're not someone to push around."

The Vols failed to prove it in their first test, and there are tougher ones awaiting them.

"We didn't handle [adversity] well at all," Lathers said. "When times like this hit, we've just got to respond to it, and for our first test we didn't do well. Next week is going to be a test for us to respond to this adversity and this loss."

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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