Tennessee wasn’t up to the task against Kyle Trask and the Florida Gators, but at least the Vols showed some fight in the second half and provided enough silver linings to put in a playbook.
Trask registered some gaudy numbers: 35 of 49 for 433 yards and four touchdowns, giving him a nation’s-best 38 on the season.
If there is such a thing as a quiet 433, Trask provided it Saturday as the 6th-ranked Gators (8-1) turned back Tennessee (2-6) 31-19 to record a 15th win in 16 tries against the Vols (or Vowels, if you listen to the TV commentators).
Tennessee has now lost six games in a row for the first time since 1988.
Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt sounded encouraged (if you listened closely) by the 12-point defeat.
“There’s probably not as much difference in the team in this locker room and the other locker room, except obviously the record,’’ Pruitt said.
Pruitt said his team needs to discern how much difference there is in the two teams and “let’s figure out how we can get’’ to Florida’s level.
Pruitt was particularly proud of the way UT hung tough in the second half, outscoring Florida 12-7 in the fourth quarter and marching 94 and 96 yards for touchdowns.
“We don’t have an effort problem,’’ Pruitt said. “We don’t have a toughness problem. We have an execution problem.’’
Pruitt lamented the many times UT was playing inside man-to-man pass coverage, only to let Gator receivers maneuver inside and make first-down catches.
After losing by 23 to Georgia and 31 to Alabama, Pruitt was asked if there was a different feeling after this defeat because the closer margin.
“No,’’ Pruitt said. “I came to this stadium to win the game. Thats’ the only goal. … No — that’s the answer.’’
As expected, Tennessee started true freshman Harrison Bailey at quarterback, then went with JT Shrout in the fourth quarterback.
Pruitt said Jarrett Guarantano didn’t play because he had not practiced in 13 days. Guarantano was among about 16 Vols who missed at least a week of work due to contact tracing or having COVID-19.
SEC athletic directors voted Thursday to adopt CDC guidelines which limited isolation to 7 to 10 days, rather than 14. Pruitt said that cleared only three Vols to play.
Pruitt said several Vols who were limited in practice wanted to play despite missing time. But that could have been to their detriment.
“If you don’t shoot any free throws or shoot the ball for a couple of weeks,’’ Pruitt said. “It’s hard to make them in a game. When you don’t guard for a couple of weeks, it’s hard to guard No. 84 (Pitts).’’
It’s hard to guard No. 84 regardless.
“To me, he’s really hard to guard when he’s at wide receiver,’’ Pruitt said. “He’s got wiggle like a wide receiver, but he weighs 240 pounds. He’s a tough cover.’’
Bailey did a respectable job in his first career start, completing 14 of 21 passes for 111 yards and one touchdown.
After UT failed to score on its first four possessions of the second half, Pruitt turned to Shrout, who injured his right labrum at practice Wednesday, but said the soreness in his throwing arm didn’t impact his play.
Shrout directed the two late scoring drives and hit 12 of 14 passes for 121 yards and a score.
Pruitt said he felt both quarterbacks did a “pretty good job,’’ but he bristled a bit when asked about the quarterback competition going forward.
“Every week, so you never have to ask me this again, we’ll see who competes in practice,’’ Pruitt said. “And whoever does the best job and affects the players around him (will start).’’
In addition to the long scoring drives, the Vols did a terrific job of shutting down Florida’s run game, holding the Gators to 19 yards on 17 rushes (although two were sacks).
“I didn’t realize they ran the ball, to be honest,’’ Pruitt said with tongue in cheek.
Tennessee also held Florida without points after the Gators took possession on the UT 30-, 47- and 43-yard lines.
Pruitt sounded like a coach who thinks his team is close to playing at high level if it can eliminate mistakes.
“This game was similar to a lot of games we’ve played,’’ Pruitt said. “About 90 percent of the plays are winning football, maybe top tier in this league.
“But unfortunately you’ve got to count all the plays.’’