Updated with more information at 8 p.m. on Sept. 21, 2019.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Turnovers, penalties and missed opportunities doomed the Tennessee football team in a lopsided loss to Florida in 2018.
A year later, not much changed.
Along with turnovers and penalties, some missed opportunities in the first half played a big part in the Volunteers' 34-3 loss to the ninth-ranked Gators on Saturday in front of 82,776 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
It was the Southeastern Conference opener for the Vols, who dropped to 1-3 for their worst start since 2008 and have lost at least three of their first four games for just the ninth time in program history. Tennessee is off next weekend before hosting No. 3 Georgia on Oct. 5.
Florida (4-0, 2-0) won its first game since Feleipe Franks was lost for the season due to an ankle injury by turning to backup quarterback Kyle Trask, a redshirt junior who had not started a game since doing so for his high school's freshman team. The Gators have now won 14 of the past 15 meetings between these SEC East rivals, with Florida's lone blip in that stretch three years ago in Knoxville.
FLORIDA 34, TENNESSEE 3
Staff writer Gene Henley breaks down the game in bits and pieces.
Just to make sure people realized his performance in a comeback victory over Kentucky last week wasn't a fluke, Florida quarterback Kyle Trask — who before Saturday hadn't started a game since his freshman year of high school — threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns against the Volunteers.
The Vols' defense forced three turnovers against the Gators. They scored zero points off those takeaways, although two second-half interceptions prevented likely Florida scores.
After a Daniel Bituli sack-and-fumble that was recovered by fellow Tennessee linebacker Henry To'o To'o at the Florida 19-yard line, the Vols quickly moved the ball inside the 5, but a third-down pass from Jarrett Guarantano went right through the hands of Jauan Jennings and was intercepted in the end zone.
For Tennessee, it came on the defensive side of the ball when Trask threw a ball into the end zone that was tipped by Theo Jackson and into the hands of teammate Alontae Taylor. It was a positive in a day full of negatives for the Vols..
WHAT IT MEANS
The Vols' 1-3 start is their first since the 2008 season, which ended 5-7 and included the firing of current athletic director Phillip Fulmer as coach. The current team is frustrated, confused and unsure as to who its quarterback is going to be. A bye week is coming at a good time, because answers are needed within the program.
Vols quarterback Jarrett Guarantano finished with 107 yards on 10-of-17 passing with a pair of interceptions, and the redshirt junior was replaced by freshman Brian Maurer for three straight Tennessee possessions to start the second half and the final series of the game. Guarantano's struggles were no more evident than on the first play of the second quarter, when he missed a wide-open Dominick Wood-Anderson down the middle, where the tight end had broken free.
Maurer wasn't much more effective, finishing 4-of-11 passing for 44 yards with an interception, although he led the Vols' lone scoring drive. That series ended with Brent Cimaglia's 40-yard field goal that cut Florida's lead to two touchdowns with 11:24 remaining in the third quarter.
Trask threw for 293 yards and a pair of touchdowns a week after helping the Gators rally at Kentucky, where he entered after Franks went down in the third quarter. He had plenty of time to throw at the start of Saturday's game and carved up the Vols on the first series, completing both of his passes for 62 yards on a five-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 19-yard scoring strike to tight end Kyle Pitts.
Tennessee's defensive line was unable to generate pressure early, leading to Trask having all day to throw. When the Vols started rushing extra defenders, that left openings in the defense he exploited with deep passes down the middle.
Tennessee settled in after that, but only temporarily. Two completions from Guarantano to Jauan Jennings had the Vols in Florida territory on their first possession, but one play later a personal foul was called on right tackle K'Rojhn Calbert, pushing Tennessee back and eventually leading to a punt.
"Maybe K'Rojhn was illegal," Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. "I thought he was playing hard, but it's a bang-bang play and that backed us up there."
That was the first of many mistakes that killed the Vols. Tennessee's Daniel Bituli forced a fumble on Florida's second possession, and fellow linebacker Henry To'o To'o recovered the ball at the Florida 19-yard line. Tennessee drove to the 3 before Guarantano's pass went through Jennings' hands and into those of defensive back Trey Dean III in the end zone.
"I just saw it kind of bang-bang, but it looked like it hit him in his hands," Pruitt said. "You always want your hands on top of the ball, so the ball don't flutter up right there. But if it hits us in the hands, we do need to catch the ball.
"I don't know exactly how it looked there, but that was a big play in the game."
The Vols' defense had three takeaways and played well at times, including stopping the Gators on downs in Tennessee territory, but a miscommunication between Guarantano and receiver Marquez Callaway after that stop led to another interception — and that led to a Florida field goal.
The Vols went three-and-out on each of their next two possessions, and Florida was able to cash in after the second one, putting together a nine-play drive in which Trask completed all five of his passes for 62 yards. Lamical Perine punched the ball into the end zone on the last play of the half, and the Gators led 17-0 at the break.
Maurer was behind center for Tennessee's first three series of the third quarter, with those ending in a field goal, an interception and a punt. Guarantano was back for Tennessee's next two drives — they resulted in an Eric Gray fumble that was recovered by Florida and a punt — before Maurer handled the final snaps after the Vols got the ball back with 2:21 left in the game.
Bituli and To'o To'o led Tennessee with eight tackles apiece, with Bituli's two sacks his most with the Vols. Tennessee's three takeaways — To'o To'o's fumble recovery and interceptions by Theo Jackson and Alontae Taylor — failed to lead to points, though.
"Of course it's frustrating," Callaway said. "We work hard in practice for situations like that, and it didn't go our way and it hurts. But the defense played great and the offense has to take advantage of it."
Florida stretched its lead to 24-3 with Trask's 29-yard touchdown pass to Freddie Swain with 9:11 left in the third quarter, then put the game away with a 10-yard scoring run by Dameon Pierce early in the fourth and a late field goal by Evan McPherson.
"As a team, we just have to come back together," senior center Brandon Kennedy said. "This bye week is going to be very important for us to actually look at the mistakes and correct them going into the next game."