KNOXVILLE -- For the second year in a row against Florida, Tennessee lost more than a game.
After star receiver Justin Hunter went down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament last September, the Volunteers lost their most reliable defensive back Saturday night against the Gators.
Sophomore safety Brian Randolph tore the ACL in his right knee on Florida's final touchdown and is out for the rest of the season.
"We've just got to get the rest of the guys to step up," safety Byron Moore said after Monday morning's practice. "It was a huge loss as we all know, but we've got to move on, get the next guy to step up and get the rest of those guys ready. He was a smart player -- he knew all the checks. It was good playing with him."
Randolph became a fixture on the Vols' back line last season as a freshman and was fifth on the team in tackles with 55. His 22 stops before his injury led Tennessee this season.
Coach Derek Dooley said "everybody" will have to help fill the Randolph's role as the quarterback of the defense.
Brent Brewer slides into the starting lineup next to Moore, and freshman LaDarrell McNeil, a four-star prospect who has nearly blocked two punts this season, is a backup with senior Rod Wilks.
"Byron's been playing pretty good football," Dooley said. "He just needs to keep doing what he's doing. Brent needs to get in there, and we've got to get Rod and LaDarrell going."
Moore has 20 tackles and one interception this season and knows he needs to do even more.
"I feel I'll be able to make more of a leadership role," he said, "and I'll make sure I get those guys ready."
Florida had success when it got its speedy players into the open field, and the Vols lost containment on the edge too many times and had their lack of defensive-back speed exposed.
Solomon Patton had 28 of his 34 rushing yards on two reverses, and Frankie Hammond sprinted for about 65 yards of his 75-yard touchdown. Trey Burton, at 228 pounds, outran Tennessee defenders twice.
"When you give fast guys that much air, it's hard to get them down," Dooley said. "Am I concerned about speed? You've got to have speed to play in this league."
Cornerback Marsalis Teague was on the wrong end of Hammond's and Burton's long touchdowns. Dooley said it's too early in the week to tell if there will be any other changes in the secondary, but he made multiple references to getting some freshmen "ready to go." Akron, the Vols' next opponent, threw 58 passes in its last game, so Dooley expects to play more guys in the secondary.
"We're not going to into a total panic," he said. "We've been playing pretty good back there. 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. Time will prove that out."
Some good grades
Dooley was satisfied with how his offensive line played against Florida's front, which the coach said had two potential NFL first-round draft picks in Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley.
"They could all play better than they did, but we weren't disappointed," he said. "They went against some really good ones, and we think our guys are pretty good. We were protecting good, and then there's times we got a little loose in the protection."
The Gators cranked up the pressure on quarterback Tyler Bray as they took the lead, the clock ran down and Tennessee abandoned its running game. The combination of Florida not having to hold back and playing games with its pass rush and its coverages in the secondary made it look like the Vols' offensive line played worse as the game progressed. Dooley, though, said he didn't see a "significant difference" in the UT line's fourth-quarter play.
Dooley said he doesn't know if he'll go with Michael Palardy or Derrick Brodus at kicker against Akron after Brodus, who took the starting job last week, missed an extra point against Florida.
"We've got to keep doing a better job with them on game day to go out there and not worry about missing a kick," the coach said. "We've got the yips right now."
Linebacker Curt Maggitt said he thought his turf toe "slowed me down a little bit" against Florida, but the sophomore seemed confident the injury wouldn't linger.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp
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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