Not everything that went wrong for Tennessee against Florida on Saturday can be laid at the feet of Nathan Peterman, but it quickly became evident that he was not the answer for what ails the Vols’ offense. A quarterback alone won’t rescue the Vols, but Peterman’s miserable debut likely will ensure that Riley Ferguson is next in line if coaches decide to bench Justin Worley again.
Running backs C
Rajion Neal and Marlin Lane had a tough time finding easy yards against the Gators’ dominating front seven. The duo combined for only 58 yards on 17 carries. The lack of a competent passing attack for most of the game didn’t help matters. But breaking a few more big runs beyond the line of scrimmage would boost the averages.
Rajion Neal talks Florida loss
Wide receivers/tight ends C
Josh Smith seems to get the ball thrown in his direction more than any other receiver, which means he’s doing a good job getting open. Quarterbacks haven’t always put him in ideal position, but he needs to pull down a few more of those tough catches. Alton “Pig” Howard may be Tennessee’s biggest “home run” threat, and his return from injury on Saturday was significant as he caught an 18-yard touchdown pass.
Offensive line C
Zach Fulton said the line took responsibility for the lack of success in Tennessee’s running game. While Peterman seemed to be frequently under pressure, Worley had ample time to throw, indicating the veteran quarterback may have a greater pocket sense than the newcomer.
Defensive line B
Tennessee put pressure on the Gators’ quarterbacks and experimented with some new looks on third-and-long that were met with mixed success. Freshman end Corey Vereen made his debut, giving the Vols ample options on the end, but very few inside.
A.J. Johnson has been the Vols’ workhorse through four games. Coach Butch Jones challenged him angrily from the sidelines after a missed tackle, and Johnson seemed to respond. Brent Brewer looked more comfortable as the third linebacker in a 4-3 set than he did as a second linebacker in the nickel, the role he was forced to occupy in Oregon.
True freshman walk-on Devaun Swafford took over as the starting nickelback and made his presence felt quickly with a 62-yard interception return for a touchdown. He made mistakes, too, but the Vols’ young secondary seems to be making progress.
Special teams B
Michael Palardy has quietly been one of the most steady players on the team. He nailed a 45-yard field goal and had nice kicks on punts and kickoffs. The Vols’ return game has been largely mistake-free, but lacks the ability to change the game with a big return.
If Peterman had led the Vols to victory, Jones and coordinator Mike Bajakian would be praised extensively for their move. So it’s only reasonable that they take criticism when the opposite occurred. Jones and his players remained positive after the game, and there’s no indication that the team lacks unity going forward.
Although losses can cause fans to overreact, the past two weeks have gone exactly as most predicted they would. The Vols were overmatched in Oregon and failed to muster much offense against the Gators’ staunch defense. As Jones said after the game, there really is no reason to panic. The Vols are 2-2, which is where they should be, even if it’s not where they want to be.
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