Four things we learned: Florida’s embarrassing loss to Tennessee an indictment of the program

By Adam Silverstein
September 25, 2016
Four things we learned: Florida’s embarrassing loss to Tennessee an indictment of the program

Image Credit: ESPNI

The Florida Gators had their winning streak extended to 12 games and the Southeastern Conference East Division under its thumb on Saturday … and then they let the Tennessee Volunteers off the hook.

Florida’s 38-28 collapse in Knoxville, Tennessee, may have shifted not just the season but the division as a whole. It gave hope to a program that looked ready to crumble (again) and proved that the Gators themselves still have an incredibly long way to go.

Here are four things we learned on Saturday.

1. An indictment of the coaching staff: There’s perhaps no greater indicator of the half-to-half differences for Florida on Saturday than coaching. The Gators entered with a seemingly sterling game plan, jumped ahead 21-0 and then thought they could coast the rest of the game. Even graduate transfer quarterback Austin Appleby admitted that the game plan didn’t change “at all” coming out of the break. So while the Vols scrambled to make second-half adjustments, Florida sat there content with its 21-point lead. Appleby claimed UF kept its “foot on the gas pedal” in the second half, which is simply inaccurate. More accurate is what junior running back Mark Thompson said: UF was lackadaisical and comfortable coming out of the locker rooms. It was obvious that head coach Jim McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier were calling a cautious game offensively, due in large part to the Gators’ constantly poor field position.

Speaking of coaching, sophomore wide receiver Antonio Callaway fielded a punt not once but twice inside the five-yard line (a cardinal sin), and freshman running back Lamichal Perine returned a kickoff after catching it in the middle of the end zone.

“We got guys that want to go make plays. They got to understand: You don’t do it by yourself, you do your job,” McElwain said. “It’s really an interesting thing. Once you start to get a bunch of guys that are out there trying to do their own thing, that’s when it fails. Especially on a team. You want to go play tennis and be singles? Go do that. But this ain’t tennis.”

There were three special teams penalties on punts. There were blown assignments defensively (we’ll get to that) and poor tackling attempts all over the field. There were drive-continuing penalties. There were third-down drops. And there was a span of seven straight series where Florida ran four plays or fewer before punting or turning the ball over.

“It really isn’t [hard to turn it around] when you just buckle down and make a play, and we never did offensively — the whole second half, especially the third quarter, that was kind of miserable,” McElwain noted.

The Gators were two-faced on offense and defense in the contest, while continuing to be wholly inefficient on special teams. All three phases contributed to the collapse. That’s an indictment the entire coaching staff, plain and simple. Oh, and McElwain is now 1-5 against ranked teams.

2. Best defense in the nation? Laughable, man: If you want to talk about coaches deserving some questioning, let’s turn our attention to defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. But before we go in deep, let’s make a couple concessions. Yes, his defense was exhausted from being on the field nearly the entire second half. Yes, one touchdown was given up because Florida’s supposedly best player, junior cornerback Jalen Tabor, tripped in coverage and left a receiver wide open.

But the best defense in the nation, at least one purported to hold that crown, does not give up 38 consecutive points (28 on four straight possessions) over 400-plus yards of offense — no matter the circumstances. No matter that it had some massive red zone stops earlier in the game. It finds a way to buckle down, to get the ball back. Adjustments are made so a couple bad series do not become a snowball rolling down hill prepared to wipe out your entire team.

Collins was gifted some of the top defensive talent in college football. This is no argument. That talent, despite departures, has been gashed for up 38 or more points in two of its last five games, dating back to the 2016 Citrus Bowl. We take it back to last year because that’s the last capable offense Florida faced before Saturday.

Because on Saturday, after giving up 17 points through its first 14 quarters of the season, the Gators allowed 21 in just over one quarter and 35 in two. The only team in the nation not to allow a passing touchdown going into Saturday gave up four in 18 minutes. That’s failure.

And what exactly is this defense going to do when its best players depart after this year? To say recruiting on that side of the ball has been lackluster is an understatement, particularly when you consider the resume of the coaches bringing in those players.

3. If you talk shit, you better back it up: This is literally a theme that I’ve been writing about since the offseason when it became quite obvious that Tabor was not about to stop talking. What I didn’t expect was for the rest of the team to join in and provide additional bulletin board material the week of the game. If you think motivation from the opposition’s smack talk doesn’t matter, you obviously didn’t hear Dobbs and Tennessee coach Butch Jones quote Florida junior CB Quincy Wilson on the field after the game.

“I don’t know if it helped us or hurt us or anything like that. A lot of the chirping stuff is not necessary, but if that’s what gets you going, that’s what gets you going,” said senior linebacker Alex Anzalone.

Newsflash for Anzalone: You don’t have to guess, it hurt you. And luckily McElwain came to that realization … even if it appears he did not care to tell his team that before the week began.

“In life, being humble, there’s a lot of good things in that. As I said, ‘Back it up.’ They didn’t back it up, did they? There might be a lesson,” McElwain said.

Yeah, there might be.

4. Sure, there is a chance to turn it all around: Every player that spoke to the media after the game noted that no Florida team has won a national championship without first suffering a loss. That’s true. But if this Gators team truly wants to have national title hopes, it has a ton of lessons to learn from Saturday’s failures.

Appleby said Florida obviously “has a lot to fix,” while Anzalone admitted being the UF team that lost to UT “really hurts.” Both are true. McElwain hopes that the Gators take this as an opportunity to grow even more.

“It tests who you are as a person. It tests who you are as a man. In failure, some of the greatest lessons you can ever learn about who you are and what you’re all about are taught,” he said. “This was a good football team we played. They beat us today. That’s the way it is. We can’t change it. So how do you not make it two? You go back to work and you take care of [it]. There’s really no secret formula, but when you go ahead and start feeling sorry for yourself [that’s not it]. … We’ll see who we are and what we’re made of. And I’ll be interested to see.”

As will Gator Nation.


  1. Joseph says:

    Well said. Second half was inexcusable

  2. SW FL Joe says:

    Considering the second half of last season and the second half of this game, I have to wonder if this coaching staff has the ability to return the program to elite status again. Clearly Nuss and Collins are not championship caliber coordinators but what have Shannon, Nord, Summers and Kent been doing that stands out? Even Rumph and Gray are under achieving considering the talent their units possess. Condidering Mac wants a multi million dollar stand alone facility, playing poorly is not going to open the wallets of big boosters. Unless the light comes on real quick, loses to LSU, Arky and FSU are real possibilities.

  3. John Thomas says:

    First quarter, chomp; second quarter, chomp; third quarter, fizz, fourth quarter, fizz. Tn-38, Fl-28! Chomp, chomp, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is. Way to go Vols. Gators stink worse than a dead skunk when they die at the half. GBO!!!

  4. Steve Young says:

    You could see that Tenn. came out tight, dropping passes and making the Gators look good. The Gators bought into the score, lost the game by not having the coaches in their face at half time about their luck so far in this game. It was evident to me that Dobbs was experienced in game management and if the receivers were more focused this game was theirs. Sure enough, multiple bad plays on special teams, conservative running plays and the change in focus by the receivers and Dobbs and your 21-3 lead becomes a lost game. I sincerely hope that the Gators understand that they have the easier schedule and still possibly can win out for the Eastern SEC Championship. Tennessee has Georgia at Ga, Alabama and Texas A&M which I see possibly as two losses for Tennessee.

  5. 1974Gator says:

    Yeah, we gave up 35 in the second half, l remember when we scored 35 -38 straight on TN when Manning was playing. Yeah, our corners were popping off and are probably embarrassed about the butt kicking they got in Nehland. Yeah, we have to regroup and play whole games like the first half played yesterday. I saw some quality football played by Appleby his receivers, the O line and the defense yesterday. I don’t think there will be any let up in the coaching or the team second half from this point on. Tennessee plays Alabama, Georgia and A&M over the next three weeks. They can easily lose 2 games. We are still in the mix and the TN butt kicking was a real wakeup call. Hang with our boys guys! Go Gators!

  6. JP Davis says:

    If You talk $hit, back it up. Old words ringing true again for the loudmouths on the Florida football team. Comon clowns, you got you asses handed to you like eggs in Cracker Barrel, it did not end well. Ya’ll come back soon!

  7. MAR says:

    Worst coaching in the second half on both sides of the ball I’ve ever seen in a half. When you play not to lose, you lose. The only thing positive was Appleby. He clearly has more potential than LDR. And I’m done with this running back deal. Scarlett needs to be a full time RB. He runs hard. I hope Tabor and Quincy are having a very hard time swallowing their pride. They not only embarrassed themselves with their talk and play, but the entire program as well. Hopefully Coach Mac will recruit some players that just go out and play hard without all the talk. Jury is still out on this coaching staff. It has been since the second half of last season.

    • James Hunter says:

      Your right Mar, but I think for the most part our top 2 corners were descent. I don’t care for all the talking. After them there’s a drastic fall off in talent. I wonder how long our staff going to learn J.Davis is a average LB. Morrison made him look like a 5 star caliber player. Mac might be in over his head at UF. Our approach is predictable on both sides of the ball.

    • Michael Jones says:

      Great points on Appleby and Scarlett. Not sure Appleby is better than Del Rio but it’s nice for that to be a real discussion. You need two good QB’s to get through the season. You made other good points too.

      Go Gators!!!

      • MAR says:

        I’m not saying Appleby is better, just that I see more potential with his athletic ability, arm and field vision.
        I think he could take us farther this year in his only chance to do so. And also, I’m not giving up on Coach Mac, but the jury is still out on him IMO. The last good team we played before UT was Michigan. We played them poorly (an understatement) all game just like we did at UT in the second half. That’s 6 quarters of bad, unmotivated (understatement again) football against the last 2 good teams played. I like Coach Mac’s style, how he handles the media, his recruiting, etc. But he’s got to get a reign on this team mentally. Mental mistakes (flags, punt returns, etc.) and complacency seem to hurt us every game. Before UT, I thought he had more of a handle on this team. We’ll see how he gets this talented team to rebound. There are still a lot of positives going on because of Coach Mac and we could still have a great year.
        Go Gators!

  8. David Jenkins says:

    I agree with your assessment of the second half. IMO, it was a complete failure on the coaches and whatever game plan they had coming out of the locker room. This team is too conservative. Get a big lead and protect it? That doesn’t work so much any more. If you don’t keep pushing, you’ll get pushed yourself. Teams today cannot let up on the gas especially in this league. 3 or 4 three and out’s on offense to start the second half all because you won’t throw the ball down the field is terribad… Especially when your quarterback has shown you that he can throw it…

    • Rick says:

      It’s great to hear Florida fans crying for a change. We Volunteer fans know exactly how you feel.

    • Michael Jones says:

      Read my mind, David. “Playing not to lose” has quite a tradition in Gator lore. It was obvious that was what was going on. . and that’s a sure recipe for losing.

      Can’t take your foot off the pedal in the 3rd quarter of a 4 quarter game.

    • 1974Gator says:

      As the OBC used to say…..”they thought they were the Mighty Gators and that the other team is gonna roll over”.

  9. James Hunter says:

    Our OC is really below average. Same as our DC. Mac better wake up immediately and motivate because those kids energy was gone after halftime. Stop blaming the players everytime something goes wrong. There’s no Treon to blame now. He needs to own up and prepare his team better.

  10. Rick says:

    As a Volunteers fan let me remind Gator fans that you kicked our tails 11 out of the last 12 years. It was bound to turn sooner or later. Tennessee was just the better team on this day. You guys can still have a great year. We know how it feels to lose a game that you should have won. Hang with your team…

  11. Mike The Red says:

    It was obvious that the coaching staff thought they had the game won at half time. Tennessee made adjustments and picked us apart.

    I like Coach Mac and still think that he is a great coach, but this loss is on the coaches.

  12. Joseph Tindle says:

    I have been a Gator fan since 1976 when Wes Chandler played for the Gators. I talk it hard when we lose. But please understand that our problems are not the players because the players do what the coaches tell them to do and they run the plays the coaches call.

    As a Miltary War veteran I know that everyone has strengths and weakness. Our weakness is that Coach Mike Summers is not playing the players where they can best help the TEAM.

    Best lineup that will make us a winner.

    LT. Martez Ivey
    LG. Tyler Jordan
    C. Cameron Dillard
    RG. Jawaan Taylor
    RT. David Sharpe

    Why anyone whom have watched the Gators the last three years knows that David Sharpe is too slow to be a blind side pass protector equally important is the fact that he needs to play at 335 pounds or less because size in his case does not equate to power. Martez Ivey has the most athletic ability of all our linemen so common sense says he is our best bet to protect our QB blind side.

    The QB and RB is only as good as the offensive line.

    Coach McElwain know this to be true where he playe QB in college.

  13. Michael Jones says:

    I am not off the McElwain train yet. Not by a long shot. He’s still a good coach and he will return us to elite status.

    That said, I would have liked to hear him take a little more responsibility for this loss. He talks about it being a “learning opportunity” for the players? Well, it needs to be a learning opportunity for him too.

    One of the things I love about sports is how the toughness factor can sometimes overtake the talent factor. That kind of happened Saturday. Unfortunately, we were on the wrong side of it. Tennessee was tougher, more passionate and wanted it more. Hopefully BOTH the staff and the players learned something about heart and what it takes to be a champion in the SEC.

    Oh. .and one more thing: SHUT THE —- UP!

    Go Gators!!!

  14. Joe says:

    Florida’s coaching staff is very overrated,our team ain’t discipline at all. I say clean house with coach’s

  15. cline says:

    I don’t get all the coaching hate. IMO the players lost that game. It is their responsibility to maintain their edge and play all 4 quarters. I liked the game plan just poorly executed on the field. GO GATORS!

    • Johnnie says:

      The coaching hate comes from losing 4 straight to the last 4 only decent teams we have played. Again every one of these games has been a regression….that’s coaching….right now I see losses to a&m arkansas and day. Toss up vs GA, LSU, Mo, and Vandy…I hope they prove me wrong….but I have been on this train since Vandy last year….I want to be sold…they just have not sold me…can they? We will see….again 1 really good game against a top quality team in 2 years. Ole Miss last year….

  16. Mike says:

    Coach Mac says he won’t censor his players, and I am sure he will let them know what it means when their mouths write checks their performance can’t cash!
    I doubt Callaway ever fields a punt inside the 10 yard line again, but, all you can do is coach them and try to teach. What they actually do is out of the coaches’ control.
    Impressed and pleased with Appleby’s showing.
    Hope we had some lessons learned. We are still building after several years of being down. Some comments about 3 star athletes giving 3 star performances I disagree with. These coaches are good at evaluating talent, whatever ‘star’ rating and coaching them up. 2 years and the Gators are legitimate contenders again. Have some patience.
    Get behind and help push the wagon or get off and go somewhere else.

  17. MAMEtester says:

    2nd half was a series of unfortunate events (Jalen Tabor injured, Duke Dawson Jr allowing two quick touchdowns, Tabor back in the game and tripping on a touchdown, Callaway catching punts deep inside our own 5 yd line) exacerbated by play not to lose offensive playcalling. We still have a chance to win SEC East, Arkansas will the key. Go Gators!

  18. Jareduf says:

    Some very concerning things with this coaching staff.

    Calloway returning a punt up 31 pts in the 4th qtr against Kentucky and therefore was not 100% for the biggest game of the season.

    Players talking trash before the Tenn game and coach Mac allowing it to happen.

    Sub-par recruiting the biggest problem.

    Horrendous special teams and lack of discipline. I never remember the Gators being so poor in that area.

    Coordinators who seems to be below average.

    I still support Mac and he has time to right the ship, but year 2 you should be seeing a lot of improvement and haven’t seen it yet. I hope our new AD pulls the plug on the staff if this continues. No reason Florida shouldn’t be an elite program.

    • G2 says:

      I too have those concerns about recruiting. I do think this group of coaches evaluates talent way better than the previous regime and that’s great but at some point we’ll have to start getting the blue chip guys Florida used to get. I don’t see us in the mix for a lot of these 4/5* guys still on the board.

      This is probably the last year they can rely on Muschamp recruiting which was pretty good on defense. Hoping we don’t turn into “3 Star U” which is where we seem to be headed.

      • 1974Gator says:

        With a new AD, Mac and staff will have to perform and re-prove themselves. There had been a lot of distractions at the AD level for the past 6+ months and Mac may have gotten use to no OR less scrutiny. Stricklin supposedly has the steel to pull the plug on a high profile coach not doing the job. What happened in the TN game second half looked to me like both the players and the coaches believed that they were the Mighty Gators and that the Vols were done. Programs with the athletic traditions of most all SEC schools do not stop playing before the final whistle. Hopefully, in the future, our coaches and players will remember to cut off the head of the snake they have their shoe on before they turn their back and begin celebrating.

  19. Eric says:

    Gator Nation has every right to expect more out of this team starting with its coaches. I know most of these boys are adults now but IMO Coach Mac should not have allowed his players to pop off… it was a poor representation of an excellent university and athletic program. “Ooops I slipped” Tabor and “Gosh that UT #3 sure does run fast” Wilson will be in the big leagues soon enough where they can make an a$$ of themselves but this is college and not a one/two man team.

    Also Coach Mac needs to swallow his pride and simply call it for what it was… UT’s coaches outcoached him and his staff in EVERY aspect of the game for MOST of the game not just the second half. I believe this thrashing will serve us well for the rest of the season. Hopefully a giant awakens.

    Go Gators! Take care of the Commodores this weekend!

  20. Michael Jones says:

    I just re-read this piece. That subtitle: “Best defense in the nation? Laughable man.” made me laugh. I agree. I was having those same feelings last year against LSU about the DBU thing when we made Harris look like Aaron Rodgers. Note to DB’s: it’s better to let other people talk about how great you are. . we want to see it from you, not hear it.

    I think that this defense is built for speed and that if the offense goes too many 3 and outs, then we’re in trouble (and maybe that’s true for all defenses). We don’t have to score every time we have the ball, but we do need to maintain possession for a couple of first downs most of the time. Plus star “leaders” can’t become lackadaisical and lose heart when we need them the most.

    All that said. . I think we’ll be alright. Go Gators!!!!

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