Tennessee's open date looked strategically wasted in preseason.
Who needs a Saturday off three games into a season? And who needs two weeks to prepare for Buffalo?
But after Saturday's misadventure in The Swamp, the open date could be a boon for a team that needs to regroup and recover. In fact, the Vols looked as though they needed an open date after the first two series of their 33-23 loss to Florida on Saturday in The Swamp.
On the Gators' first possession, they made UT's defense look as silly as it did the last time it opened the game against a Charlie Weis offense. That was back in 2005, when Weis was the head coach at Notre Dame and UT was wobbling through a 5-6 season.
Weis must have saved his game notes, because those two opening drives six years apart began with a couple of well-conceived screen passes. And both ended with touchdowns against mystified defenses.
Florida's first drive put the Vols behind. The Vols' first possession put them in a bind.
On UT's fourth offensive play, star wide receiver Justin Hunter suffered a season-ending knee injury. Losing him for a game was bad enough.
The Tyler Bray to Hunter passing combination was the surest thing about this team. Bray to Da'Rick Rogers wasn't far behind.
Two games into the season, you also knew the defense was questionable and the running game wasn't good enough to be considered questionable. Suddenly, one game and one injured player later, UT's uncertainty is compounded by a passing attack that lost its best receiver.
In better Tennessee times, the Vols could lose one outstanding player and replace him with another one. The best example of that occurred in their 1998 national championship season. When the Vols lost Jamal Lewis to a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game, they replaced him with Travis Henry.
When the Vols lost Hunter on Saturday, the entire offense looked lost.
That's why the open date is no longer superfluous. They need time to find themselves as well as other options.
Fans can at least be encouraged that freshman wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett had eight catches for 59 yards against the Gators. They can't be as encouraged about the rest of the offense.
Senior running back Tauren Poole couldn't make a dent in the Gators. Neither could an offensive line that was expected to be markedly improved with so many starters returning from last season. It was just as overmatched this year as it was last season against Florida, which has held UT to a total of 20 yards rushing in the last two games.
When Poole struggled to make forward progress against the Gators, the Vols turned to freshman Marlin Lane. That's not quite the same as replacing Jamal Lewis with Travis Henry, as evidenced by the stats: Poole, nine carries for 18 yards; Lane, five carries for 9 yards.
There aren't many other running options. Sophomore Rajion Neal's stock isn't exactly soaring. True freshman Tom Smith, who lost preseason practice time to an injury, is another possibility.
It's also reasonable to assume the Vols could make changes in their offensive line. They won't play another conference game until Oct. 8. That gives them three weeks to make an upgrade.
If they do, the September open date will be remembered as time off well spent.