Tennessee Volunteers coach Derek Dooley looks on in the fourth quarter of the loss Saturday night to Florida at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. Dooley said the coaches as well as the players learned some lessons from the Gators' late-game dominance.Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
KNOXVILLE -- The University of Tennessee football team watched its second-half collapse against Florida on Sunday and began pointing out the lessons it learned the night before.
The Volunteers' players weren't the only ones rehashing the mistakes in the souring loss.
Coach Derek Dooley said he and his staff could have done a better job to prevent the Gators' run of big offensive plays and manage the team's psyche after Florida scored 21 points in an 8:32 span of the second half.
"We've been talking about this for a long time," he said during his weekly news conference Monday, "on exercising that balance of pushing the envelope schematically defensively to where it's aggressive [and] it's impacting the game versus too much to where we create confusion and not playing fast."
The difficult Saturday night, he pointed out, was that Florida's success came later rather than sooner, limiting the chance to make adjustments.
"It's not like we went into halftime saying, '[Florida's] doing all this stuff,'" Dooley said.
"We were having a lot of communication issues, but when you reflect on it, yeah, certainly tighten that down a little bit."
The defensive players who spoke to the media after Monday morning's practice all mentioned some communication issues and misalignments that led to Florida's big plays. The Vols surrendered 13 plays of 14 or more yards, including four in a 10-play stretch that totaled 225 yards.
There appeared to be some pre-snap confusion in Tennessee's secondary on Trey Burton's 80-yard touchdown run and Frankie Hammond's 75-yard catch-and-run score.
With a new defense, it's understandable that the Vols' struggles with some of those issues continued into their third overall and first Southeastern Conference game, and Dooley suggested the Vols' coaches could have done more to limit those problems.
"It was a lot on us," linebacker Curt Maggitt said. "We played with effort and toughness. It was just a lot of mental breakdowns and not communicating.
"The defense is tough. If all 10 guys got the call and one guy is on a different call, then it could be a big play given up. We experienced that last week."
Dooley also said he played his offensive skill players too much. Receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson played more than 70 snaps, and the coach lumped tailback Rajion Neal and tight end Mychal Rivera into the overplayed group. Hunter said Monday he got fatigued from playing "the whole game."
"That's my fault," Dooley said. "It's a classic case of you're getting into a game against a good team, things are in control and you don't want to disrupt it. We have to exercise trust in what we've been doing: rolling guys, early especially, so we've got every ounce of juice we need in the fourth quarter."
Dooley again admitted the Vols stopped trying to run the ball too soon and said 44 passes are too high a number "when we play these good defenses." Tennessee called 33 pass plays to 23 run plays in taking a 20-13 third-quarter lead. The Vols ran the ball twice in their next 16 plays.
"I don't want to comment on that because that would be like me testing my coach's play-calling," said left tackle Antonio Richardson. "They call what they call and we're going to block it to the best of our ability. We were running the ball effectively."
Dooley excused the "shock" of his team's inability to respond to the Gators' 21-point blitz, but he was disappointed in the Vols' lack of belief in their ability to rally from a 14-point deficit with nearly 10 minutes remaining.
"I felt like guys were looking at that scoreboard too much instead of saying, 'Let's regroup and let's continue to go,'" Richardson said. "It was only a two-possession game, so I felt like we had enough time to get the game close or even to win it. It's just getting guys to that mindset to where no matter how far down we are and no matter how much adversity we face, we've just got to keep on playing."
The Vols' collective message after Monday's indoor practice was the importance of moving on, and Dooley said the players were "great" in responding to a particularly painful defeat.
"They were gutted," Dooley said. "It was a lot of emotional investment in that game -- by the fans, by everybody associated with Tennessee. That game hurts.
"I think it's a good sign that that kind of pain is on us, because we felt like we could got toe-to-toe and we did. We screwed it up. They hurt more than I've seen one of our teams hurt after a loss, which they should.
"It's time to move on. We've got a lot of confidence in who we are and where we're headed. That little stretch of bad ball we played, we've got to make it what we did and not who we are."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 ...