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Vols in trouble following big loss to Gators?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

(Photo)
At times, the Tennessee run game looked decent against the Gators. Rajion Neal had 87 yards on 23 carries for the Vols on Saturday night.
(T-G Photo by Chris Siers)
KNOXVILLE -- Tennessee's loss to the Florida Gators was anything but pretty. The Vols were outscored 27-6 in the second half, despite a solid start.

The wheels came flying off Tennessee's offense in the second half when Vol quarterback Tyler Bray threw a pass to a nice plot of Tennessee turf and picked up an intentional grounding penalty. Things only got worse from there.

Up and down

It was like Big Orange fans were treated to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in Bray's performance on Saturday.

He was great in the first half, leading Tennessee to a 14-10 lead going into halftime.

The Tennessee defense had moments of solid play as well, especially early.

Just before the break, the Tennessee defense showed some grit, holding a Gator drive deep into Tennessee's territory to a Caleb Sturgis 20-yard field goal.

Florida got the ball back to start the second half and again the Vols stopped a deep Gator drive and forced the visitors to settle for just three points.

At this point, Tennessee held a 14-13 advantage, but soon extended it to a 20-13 lead with an AJ Johnson 1-yard touchdown run.

Collapse

Shortly after, Tennessee lost every bit of offensive rhythm and the defense just seemed to lose its gusto.

The second half performance left Vol fans everywhere scratching their heads and trying to figure out who to point a finger towards.

In his third year at the helm, many are wondering if Derek Dooley is the man to guide Tennessee back to the land of prosperity, and such criticism is rightly raised.

Tennessee essentially played cupcake games against N.C. State and Georgia State in the first two games of the season, and naturally, everybody looked brilliant on the field.

But when things got tough against Florida, the house of cards came crashing down in Neyland.

Giving up

Analyzing Bray's second half, he appeared to give up on the plays. He was impatient and was flat out awful in his passing game.

On several instances, he would look to his first option and if that wasn't there, the ball landed at a receiver's feet, or in one case, in Dooley's hands on the sidelines.

Such uninspiring play makes fans everywhere wonder if this is a lack of inspiration from the on-field leader or from the sidelines.

The answer is both.

(Photo)
Following Saturday's loss, many wonder if indeed Derek Dooley is the man for the job in Knoxville.
(T-G Photo by Chris Siers)
Bray was impatient and gave play progression zero chances to unfold in the second half. One could also make the argument the offensive line didn't give Bray enough protection, but there were instances where he flat out just didn't make the throw.

Spreading problem

The blame game doesn't rest with the junior play caller, though. Tennessee's uninspiring performance spread like a wildfire to both sides of the ball.

As well as Tennessee played defensively on the two drives before and after the half, the defense flat out trying to make stops late in the game.

And that has to be put on the lack of respect players have for Dooley.

Having just one SEC win last year, Dooley's seat was already red hot, but the anticipation for what the Vols could do this year bought him some time.

There's no question, Knoxville was buzzing on Saturday and Neyland was undoubtedly the loudest it's been in years until about halfway through the third quarter.

Bright spots

Even with the abysmal showing, there were still a handful of unexpected bright spots, including the run game.

Led by Rajion Neal's 87 yards on 23 carries, flickers of life emerged within the Tennessee run game.

The offensive tools are there for the Volunteers. Justin Hunter and Coradarrelle Patterson are All-SEC caliber receivers.

And Bray has the athleticism and knowledge to lead the Tennessee offense. What it comes down to is if Dooley can demand the respect he needs as a coach to push his team when they begin to struggle against a good opponent.

The schedule only gets tougher from here on out.

Harder times

Next week, Tennessee gets a relatively easy home game against Akron, but has a murderous road trip including stops in Athens, Ga. and Starkville, Miss. Following the tough games against Georgia and Mississippi State, the Vols host Alabama, then hit the road again for Columbia to face South Carolina.

Unless something drastic changes within the Volunteers' charisma, Tennessee is looking at four straight SEC losses.

As stated previously, Tennessee has the offensive weapons to put points on the board, and they are most certainly capable of competing in the SEC.

Whether or not Dooley's seat gets any hotter or not is going to depend if Tennessee can score that signature win to inspire the skills at hand.

Chris Siers is sports editor of the Times-Gazette. Email him at sports@t-g.com.

Chris Siers
The Extra Point
Chris Siers is sports editor of the Times-Gazette.

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