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KNOXVILLE - On the surface, a 14-point loss to a top-10 team seems leaps and bounds better than a 35-point loss to a top-5 team.

"I can definitely see the growth," University of Tennessee sophomore tailback David Oku said minutes after the Volunteers' 31-17 loss to Florida on Saturday.

But then there's the film.

And the more film Derek Dooley watches, the more antacid he needs.

"You just get sick looking at it," UT's first-year head coach said Sunday night.

Unlike the previous Saturday - a 48-13 loss to Oregon - the Vols played hard for a full game.

But they still didn't play consistently well.

A penalty here, an interception there. A fake punt lapse here, an out-of-bounds kickoff there. Another interception here, a fumble there.

Dooley's inexperienced, depth-depleted Vols (1-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) tossed adversity aside and gave themselves a chance to beat the Gators (3-0, 1-0).

It was an encouraging sign for the immediate future.

"But it's discouraging that we couldn't take advantage of it Saturday night," Dooley added. "What I was probably most disappointed in offensively was we did a lot of things out there that we didn't do in practice - meaning, I felt like we were probably trying too hard to do something special instead of just executing the offense and doing what you're coached to do.

"And that's at all positions, and it showed."

So here stand the Vols, who (probably) have a brief respite against UAB on Saturday before a brutal October schedule - visits No. 15 LSU and Georgia preceding a home game against No. 1 Alabama and a trip to No. 12 South Carolina.

"We've got to grow," junior tailback Tauren Poole said. "The time is now. We can't make any more excuses. We've just got to continue to stay focused and get better."

Quarterback Matt Simms - who more than any Vol symbolized Saturday's roller coaster with two big touchdowns and two crucial interceptions - said UT will stay focused and will get better.

"We definitely dealt with adversity a lot better than we did a week ago," Simms said. "Although we did a lot of bad things, we improved in a lot of phases. We're going to be a good football team the rest of the year.

"We're going to use this as motivation, and we're going to keep fighting, and we're going to win a lot of big games this year."

Simms continued, and his tone sharpened with every sentence.

"I'm extremely upset right now at myself, and we're all upset," Simms said. "We let (Florida) go tonight, and I hope they know that, because we definitely could have won that game. We need to keep fighting, because we're going to win these games coming up.

"We're going to put on a good fight for a lot of these teams in the SEC."

Tough talk isn't a bad thing, but Dooley wants more. He only offered his team a small amount of praise for its "fight" against Florida.

Playing hard, according to Dooley, is simply a "baseline standard for every game."

Executing assignments and techniques is the next step, and the Vols didn't climb that step Saturday.

"I'm proud of them for (fighting), but that should be the standard," Dooley said. "Once you do that, what it proves is that you have a chance to win the football game. It doesn't say you're going to win a football game when you compete like that, but it tells you that you have a chance. And then it comes down to the execution and all those things we talk about on our day-to-day goals, relative to turnovers and red area and third down, running the ball, passing the ball, all those critical statistics that define winning and losing.

"We were sitting there with 11 minutes to go down one score with a chance to put some heat on them and tie it up, and we didn't get it done. It came down to a lot of breakdowns in a lot of areas."

Dooley was then asked whether he would at least concede to seeing "more positives than negatives" than the Oregon game.

"No. It really was a lot more negatives," he said. "You come out there feeling like we competed pretty good, and then you just see all the lost opportunities, and it just makes you sick."

MIAs

Dooley said redshirt freshman JerQuari Schofield, UT's starting right guard, might be "out for a while" with an unspecified foot injury.

"We'll know more tomorrow officially, but I don't think he's doing too good on his foot," Dooley said of his promising, 6-foot-6, 330-pound guard.

Dooley said first-team center Cody Pope (concussion, stinger) remains questionable for the UAB game.

"We won't know until later in the week," he said.

UT would start sophomore Darin Gooch and true freshman James Stone in place of Pope and Schofield.

Contact Wes Rucker at wrucker@timesfreepress.com or 865-851-9739. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/wesrucker or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tfpvolsbeat.

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