The Tennessee Volunteers and Florida Gators are entrenched in battle in The Swamp, and I share my halftime thoughts here.
Despite some unfavorable field positions in the first half, this group played much better than many would have expected. They struggled to get Florida off the field on third down, but they had success slowing down Jones and the option attack. Tennessee's offense will have to sustain more drives in the second half, but this group has swarmed to the football the entire half. The secondary needs to catch in on some opportunities they have had and the linebackers need to get home on some delayed stunts to continue this success. I don't think anyone thought the Vols would hold the Gators to just 17 in the first half, and given the fact they have had their backs against the wall with short fields makes it even more impressive. Tennessee is winning the turnover battle and has missed opportunities to have won it significantly in the first half.
Tennessee has schemed Todd Grantham's defense up on multiple occasions to move the sticks and score. Hendon Hooker finally connected on a meaningful deep ball, but missed a late opportunity to Jacob Warren, which would have changed the narrative of the half. Tennessee has to take advantage of the young cornerbacks that Florida is playing and keep the offense on the field more.
This unit has played better with Cooper Mays today. They have to get to the second level more consistently and Mays has to get the snaps to Hendon Hooker. That was an issue that caused two drives to stall in the first half. Overall, this unit has handled a potent Florida pass rush well.
Bone Head Penalties
Jeremy Banks had another Jeremy Banks penalty that helped Florida get out to a 7-0 lead, then an offense sides penalty by Elijah Simmons helped the Gators extend a drive. After failing to connect on a deep shot with less than four minutes left in the half, a kick catch interference, coupled with a targeting and unsportsmanlike conduct gave Florida a 30-yard penalty to start on the Vols 40, but the defense held. After this, two false starts nearly derailed a drive, but a brilliant Josh Heupel play call salvaged this, but resulted in no points due to a missed field goal from Chase McGrath and Heupel did not opt to use his timeouts which was another mistake.
Can Tennessee Respond In the Second Half?
The Vols have been in this game but self-inflicted wounds hurt them. Tennessee still has the chance to attack the edges and create explosives, but will it? How long can the defense hold if not. We will find out in the second half, but overall, the half could have been worse for Josh Heupel's team. Much worse, considering that Tennessee should be up in this game.