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HomeSportsTennessee FootballTennessee vs. Florida: 10 points

Tennessee vs. Florida: 10 points

It’s a tale that is (almost) as old as time: Tennessee travels to Gainesville, Fla. with a superior team, and gets beat — often dominated — by Florida. The 2023 version was no less painful for Vol fans, as the Gators pulled off a 29-16 win at The Swamp Saturday night. Here are 10 things that stood out.

1.) Tennessee misses Alex Golesh

There’s no way to sugarcoat this: We’re finding out just how important Alex Golesh was to Josh Heupel’s success at Tennessee.

Make no mistake: Heupel is a great offensive coach. The offense that Tennessee runs is his offense. But we’re learning with each passing game just how much Golesh made it work.

Golesh was Heupel’s offensive coordinator the first two years at Tennessee before he left to take the head coaching job at South Florida this year. While Heupel called his own plays during his three-year stint at Central Florida, he turned over playcalling responsibilities to Golesh.

Heupel replaced Golesh by promoting from within, naming Joey Halzle his offensive coordinator. Halzle is an excellent recruiter with limiting coaching experience, and Heupel is handling most of (if not all of) the playcalling.

It’s amazing how much better a great quarterback can make an offense look, and Hendon Hooker was a great quarterback. But this is a problem that goes way beyond Joe Milton. Tennessee’s playcalling through three games in the 2023 season has been nothing if not bizarre. After calling lateral passing plays almost exclusively against Austin Peay, many Tennessee fans assumed — incorrectly, as it turns out — that Heupel was simply playing things close to the vest and not opening up the playbook because he didn’t have to open the playbook to defeat the Governors. Yet, on a miserable Saturday night in The Swamp, Tennessee was again calling wide receiver screen after wide receiver screen after wide receiver screen, to the sheer bafflement of its fans.

2.) Joe Milton wasn’t the problem

Joe Milton is no Hendon Hooker. But the sixth-year senior continues to receive way too much criticism from Tennessee fans who insist that he must be benched and replaced by freshman Niko Iamaleava.

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Milton wasn’t great against Florida. He locked onto receivers way too often, missing open receivers in the process. He made several poor decisions. The interception (his first in a Tennessee uniform) was as bad as any decision you’ll ever see a quarterback make. It was maybe the single worst moment in Saturday’s game.

However, after a pretty good performance against Virginia and a very average performance against Austin Peay, Milton’s accuracy and throwing mechanics weren’t the problem against Florida. He dropped some beautiful passes that were right on target, only having one really bad overthrow. And he made all the throws he needed to make in the underneath game.

Milton wasn’t great against the Gators, but he didn’t cost Tennessee the game. Tennessee would’ve lost that game even with Niko Iamaleava at quarterback, unless we’re assuming that Heupel and Halzle just don’t trust their QB.

Indeed, that is what most of us were assuming as UT ran wide receiver screens almost exclusively in the second and much of the third quarters. “If you don’t trust your QB to throw it down the field, why do you have him in the game?” was a commonly asked question.

Yet, Milton looked great on the first drive, which resulted in a quick touchdown. And he looked good enough in the fourth quarter, when Tennessee finally started throwing the ball vertically again. That makes the playcalling decision even more bizarre.

3.) The red flags were there

Most Tennessee fans were confident going into Saturday’s game against the Gators.

I was not one of those fans.

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All week long, I felt that Tennessee would lose to Florida. I said as much on The Round Table Monday night. The Vols’ performance against Austin Peay indicated that this simply isn’t a very good team.

Of course good teams sometimes have bad games. Is Alabama really as average as its showing against Golesh’s South Florida Bulls on Saturday would indicate? Almost certainly not. But it’s one thing for a game to still be competitive in the fourth quarter when you’re playing a team like South Florida. It’s quite another when you’re supposedly one of the nation’s elite teams and you’re still struggling to put away a middle-of-the-road FCS team like Austin Peay in the fourth quarter.

Unless Tennessee shows remarkable growth the next couple of weeks, the Vols will lose at home against South Carolina.

4.) Florida is not a great team

This is the most frustrating part of Tennessee’s inability to get it done against the Gators. The team Florida fielded Saturday is probably the worst Florida team that Tennessee has faced in decades. It’s a very average team that is good on defense, really good in the running game, but otherwise will struggle against top competition.

Graham Mertz is not a great quarterback. He was one of the most uninspiring transfer portal additions among Power 5 conference QBs during the offseason. He had a 98.0 QBR against Utah, completing 31 of 44 passes for a touchdown and an INT. Tennessee made him look spectacular, with a QBR of 115.9.

If you’re a Tennessee fan, you know that coaches and rosters change but there is one thing that is uniquely Tennessee: The ability to make under-performing opposing quarterbacks look amazing. It is a tradition that dates back to the 2001 SEC championship game, when LSU used an approximately 8th string QB to knock the Vols out of the BCS National Championship Game.

5.) So much for improved defense

Tennessee’s defense looked very much improved through the first two games of the season, but that came with a huge asterisk: Virginia and Austin Peay were always going to be two of the worst offenses that the Vols would face in 2023.

Florida was always going to be the test for Tennessee’s defense, even though the Gators’ offense is very average by SEC standards. The Vols’ defense failed the test. The front four, so vaunted through the first two games of the season, failed to get any notable pressure on Mertz, and was terrible in run defense. The linebackers were average to poor, with the exception of Aaron Beasley (and Florida did an excellent job of neutralizing Beasley). The secondary — which is obviously the weak link of Tennessee’s defense even on a good day — was completely underwhelming, even against expectations. The Vols’ zone coverage was heavily exploited by Florida, and UT’s defensive coaches refused to make adjustments — which was mind-boggling.

Tackling technique was dreadful, and it is a headscratcher that defensive coordinator Tim Banks didn’t dial up more blitzes than he did, considering the way the defensive line was struggling against the pass.

Things improved in the second half, but it’s hard to put too much stock into that because Florida went extremely vanilla with its playcalling, taking almost all of the air out of the ball and abandoning the passing game.

Now consider this: If Graham Mertz had the kind of game he had against Tennessee, what is Spencer Rattler going to do to the Vols in a couple of weeks? Rattler is arguably the SEC’s best quarterback and barring some major improvements and adjustments, he’s going to carve up Tennessee.

6.) Kamal Hadden’s reputation earned

Senior defensive back Kamal Hadden has become a sort of lightning rod for criticism during his time at Tennessee. He’s a popular whipping boy among fans on social media, and is often scapegoated.

But however unfairly he may be treated at times, Hadden also seems to manage to earn the criticism. His missed tackle on Florida’s first touchdown of the game sort of sums up his entire Tennessee career.

7.) A completely overwhelmed team

One thing we know about Josh Heupel is that he’s a stickler for detail, and is going to have his teams prepared.

Maybe that is what makes Saturday’s game at Florida so spectacularly disappointing. Tennessee was completely unprepared for that game. The Vols were out-coached, they were not ready for Florida’s scheme, they were not ready for the crowd noise, and they were not ready for the challenge of playing an SEC opponent on the road. The Vols played with a complete lack of poise and composure through the entirety of the first half. The pre-snap penalties were infuriating and the clock management was frustrating.

What Heupel has accomplished in two-plus years in Knoxville is nothing short of incredible. However, I think it’s safe to say that the honeymoon is over. Call him a victim of his own success if you will, but Tennessee fans are going to demand more than what they got in Gainesville Saturday night. They’re rightly going to question how much of Heupel’s success was due to Hendon Hooker and Alex Golesh, and they’re rightly going to point out that while Heupel is 20-9 overall at Tennessee, he’s only 5-5 in true road games.

Let’s not get too carried away: Heupel isn’t on the hot seat and I’m certainly not suggesting that he should be. The way he has rebuilt the Tennessee brand in such a short period of time absolutely cannot nor should be discounted. What I’m saying is that we’re at that place that every coach inevitably reaches where fans start to nitpick at every flaw and shortcoming. And however spectacular his tenure at Tennessee may have been so far, Heupel deserves the criticism he is receiving for Saturday’s performance. And he said so himself in the postgame press conference, though not in so many words.

8.)  A good second half effort

So. We’ve got the bad out of the way. Now let’s talk about the good. Tennessee’s second half performance was much, much better. The Vols came out of the locker room at halftime and looked like an SEC title contender is supposed to look. The offense moved the ball successfully in the second half (even though they only had nine points to show for it) and the defense limited Florida to a single field goal.

The Gators’ game plan is partly the reason for that. Billy Napier and his staff chose to go into a shell, perhaps believing they had scored enough to win the game. But Tennessee couldn’t stop the run in the first half, and did a nice job of doing so in the second half. Give credit where credit is due. Joe Milton made some nice throws, and receivers made some nice catches.

Perhaps the most positive thing about the second half was the way Tennessee’s backs were running the football. There was a lot of determination and fight there.

9.) Why the shotgun?

I’ve complained about it ever since Butch Jones brought his “infallible” offense from Cincinnati to Knoxville: Why oh why go into a shotgun situation in fourth-and-short situations? I get it: You’re a shotgun team and that’s how your offense is designed. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when situations like Florida’s fourth quarter stop pop up.

10.) An awful officiating effort

If there was anything worse than Tennessee’s first half performance, it was the officials’ performance.

I don’t know if Tennessee could’ve completed a comeback against Florida with everything else being neutralized. I don’t know if the Vols deserved to complete the comeback. The first half performance was that dreadful.

But Tennessee didn’t have a chance of completing the comeback with that officiating crew. Level-headed UT fans will say, “Should’ve played better and kept it out of the officials’ hands.” Hey, you’ll get no argument from me on that point. But that doesn’t excuse the overlying issue — the one that will not be addressed by the SEC. There has to be accountability when the officiating is as bad as it was in Saturday’s game.

Tennessee beat writer Wes Rucker pointed out on Twitter after the game that there is no officiating conspiracy. In other words, officials don’t conspire against certain teams. It would’ve been better for the SEC if Tennessee won the game than if Florida won the game. All of that is obviously true. But you can’t blame fans who manage to convince themselves that there is some sort of grand conspiracy at play. Not after the Ole Miss game two years ago and then that debacle that we saw Saturday.

In fact, it had only been one week since an SEC officiating crew assigned to the Tennessee-Austin Peay game performed awfully. I said a week ago that the final score was made closer by botched calls by the officials. I still believe that, and I also think officials made a clear difference in Saturday’s game at Florida.

Forget the fact that Florida was not called for a single holding penalty all game (and if you didn’t see Florida commit several holds, you weren’t watching the same game I was). Forget any questionable call that occurred in the first half. Simply consider this: Tennessee turned the ball over on downs in Florida territory three times in the second half. On all three occasions, officials impacted the outcome.

The first time, when Tennessee was facing 4th and 1 inside the red zone, an official kicked the ball after spotting it, allowing Florida to substitute its short-yardage package.

The second time, a horrible “blindside block” against Tennessee took a first down away.

The third time, there was a no-call on pass interference in the end zone. On this last call, Florida would argue that the pass was uncatchable. That’s fair enough, but there was a second foul on the play that also wasn’t called: A hit on a defenseless player. Either way, the officials completely botched the play.

There was also the horrible call on the roughing the passer penalty against Tennessee. I don’t have as much of an issue with that call because Tennessee has to be more disciplined than it was in that situation. Don’t give the officials an opportunity to call it, in other words. But it was still a rotten play call.

Finally, even though it didn’t have a bearing on the game’s outcome, the final “late hit” that was called on Tennessee with four seconds remaining was a horrible call.

I don’t agree with Josh Heupel’s use of a time out with nine seconds remaining (though it was almost certainly in response to Billy Napier calling a time out the play before). Someone has to be the bigger man, and Heupel was just providing an opportunity for exactly what played out.

However, ESPN commentator Kirk Herbstreit is dead wrong when he implied that Heupel was responsible for what unfolded. Players have to be accountable for their actions. That goes for Tennessee players and Florida players. Florida players started that brouhaha, Tennessee players reciprocated, and if the SEC applies the letter of the law, there will be players from both teams who will miss next week’s games, because players from both teams were throwing punches. That’s a separate issue from the flag that was thrown against Tennessee, which was yet another completely inexcusable call by an officiating crew that acted like they were selected from somewhere along Fraternity Drive in Gainesville a couple of hours before the game.

When the ESPN crew of Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and even the network’s officiating expert are blatantly taking officials to task for game-altering calls, you know it’s bad.

If Tennessee’s first half performance hadn’t been as bad as it was, the officiating would’ve been an even bigger storyline in the game’s outcome. As it was, the officials firmly inserted themselves into the game in the second half. If the SEC is truly the nation’s elite football conference, it should have the nation’s elite football officials. And right now it isn’t even close.

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It’s a tale that is (almost) as old as time: Tennessee travels to Gainesville, Fla. with a superior team, and gets beat — often dominated — by Florida. The 2023 version was no less painful for Vol fans, as the Gators pulled off a 29-16 win at The Swamp Saturday night. Here are 10 things that stood out.

1.) Tennessee misses Alex Golesh

There’s no way to sugarcoat this: We’re finding out just how important Alex Golesh was to Josh Heupel’s success at Tennessee.

Make no mistake: Heupel is a great offensive coach. The offense that Tennessee runs is his offense. But we’re learning with each passing game just how much Golesh made it work.

Golesh was Heupel’s offensive coordinator the first two years at Tennessee before he left to take the head coaching job at South Florida this year. While Heupel called his own plays during his three-year stint at Central Florida, he turned over playcalling responsibilities to Golesh.

Heupel replaced Golesh by promoting from within, naming Joey Halzle his offensive coordinator. Halzle is an excellent recruiter with limiting coaching experience, and Heupel is handling most of (if not all of) the playcalling.

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It’s amazing how much better a great quarterback can make an offense look, and Hendon Hooker was a great quarterback. But this is a problem that goes way beyond Joe Milton. Tennessee’s playcalling through three games in the 2023 season has been nothing if not bizarre. After calling lateral passing plays almost exclusively against Austin Peay, many Tennessee fans assumed — incorrectly, as it turns out — that Heupel was simply playing things close to the vest and not opening up the playbook because he didn’t have to open the playbook to defeat the Governors. Yet, on a miserable Saturday night in The Swamp, Tennessee was again calling wide receiver screen after wide receiver screen after wide receiver screen, to the sheer bafflement of its fans.

2.) Joe Milton wasn’t the problem

Joe Milton is no Hendon Hooker. But the sixth-year senior continues to receive way too much criticism from Tennessee fans who insist that he must be benched and replaced by freshman Niko Iamaleava.

Milton wasn’t great against Florida. He locked onto receivers way too often, missing open receivers in the process. He made several poor decisions. The interception (his first in a Tennessee uniform) was as bad as any decision you’ll ever see a quarterback make. It was maybe the single worst moment in Saturday’s game.

However, after a pretty good performance against Virginia and a very average performance against Austin Peay, Milton’s accuracy and throwing mechanics weren’t the problem against Florida. He dropped some beautiful passes that were right on target, only having one really bad overthrow. And he made all the throws he needed to make in the underneath game.

Milton wasn’t great against the Gators, but he didn’t cost Tennessee the game. Tennessee would’ve lost that game even with Niko Iamaleava at quarterback, unless we’re assuming that Heupel and Halzle just don’t trust their QB.

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Indeed, that is what most of us were assuming as UT ran wide receiver screens almost exclusively in the second and much of the third quarters. “If you don’t trust your QB to throw it down the field, why do you have him in the game?” was a commonly asked question.

Yet, Milton looked great on the first drive, which resulted in a quick touchdown. And he looked good enough in the fourth quarter, when Tennessee finally started throwing the ball vertically again. That makes the playcalling decision even more bizarre.

3.) The red flags were there

Most Tennessee fans were confident going into Saturday’s game against the Gators.

I was not one of those fans.

All week long, I felt that Tennessee would lose to Florida. I said as much on The Round Table Monday night. The Vols’ performance against Austin Peay indicated that this simply isn’t a very good team.

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Of course good teams sometimes have bad games. Is Alabama really as average as its showing against Golesh’s South Florida Bulls on Saturday would indicate? Almost certainly not. But it’s one thing for a game to still be competitive in the fourth quarter when you’re playing a team like South Florida. It’s quite another when you’re supposedly one of the nation’s elite teams and you’re still struggling to put away a middle-of-the-road FCS team like Austin Peay in the fourth quarter.

Unless Tennessee shows remarkable growth the next couple of weeks, the Vols will lose at home against South Carolina.

4.) Florida is not a great team

This is the most frustrating part of Tennessee’s inability to get it done against the Gators. The team Florida fielded Saturday is probably the worst Florida team that Tennessee has faced in decades. It’s a very average team that is good on defense, really good in the running game, but otherwise will struggle against top competition.

Graham Mertz is not a great quarterback. He was one of the most uninspiring transfer portal additions among Power 5 conference QBs during the offseason. He had a 98.0 QBR against Utah, completing 31 of 44 passes for a touchdown and an INT. Tennessee made him look spectacular, with a QBR of 115.9.

If you’re a Tennessee fan, you know that coaches and rosters change but there is one thing that is uniquely Tennessee: The ability to make under-performing opposing quarterbacks look amazing. It is a tradition that dates back to the 2001 SEC championship game, when LSU used an approximately 8th string QB to knock the Vols out of the BCS National Championship Game.

5.) So much for improved defense

Tennessee’s defense looked very much improved through the first two games of the season, but that came with a huge asterisk: Virginia and Austin Peay were always going to be two of the worst offenses that the Vols would face in 2023.

Florida was always going to be the test for Tennessee’s defense, even though the Gators’ offense is very average by SEC standards. The Vols’ defense failed the test. The front four, so vaunted through the first two games of the season, failed to get any notable pressure on Mertz, and was terrible in run defense. The linebackers were average to poor, with the exception of Aaron Beasley (and Florida did an excellent job of neutralizing Beasley). The secondary — which is obviously the weak link of Tennessee’s defense even on a good day — was completely underwhelming, even against expectations. The Vols’ zone coverage was heavily exploited by Florida, and UT’s defensive coaches refused to make adjustments — which was mind-boggling.

Tackling technique was dreadful, and it is a headscratcher that defensive coordinator Tim Banks didn’t dial up more blitzes than he did, considering the way the defensive line was struggling against the pass.

Things improved in the second half, but it’s hard to put too much stock into that because Florida went extremely vanilla with its playcalling, taking almost all of the air out of the ball and abandoning the passing game.

Now consider this: If Graham Mertz had the kind of game he had against Tennessee, what is Spencer Rattler going to do to the Vols in a couple of weeks? Rattler is arguably the SEC’s best quarterback and barring some major improvements and adjustments, he’s going to carve up Tennessee.

6.) Kamal Hadden’s reputation earned

Senior defensive back Kamal Hadden has become a sort of lightning rod for criticism during his time at Tennessee. He’s a popular whipping boy among fans on social media, and is often scapegoated.

But however unfairly he may be treated at times, Hadden also seems to manage to earn the criticism. His missed tackle on Florida’s first touchdown of the game sort of sums up his entire Tennessee career.

7.) A completely overwhelmed team

One thing we know about Josh Heupel is that he’s a stickler for detail, and is going to have his teams prepared.

Maybe that is what makes Saturday’s game at Florida so spectacularly disappointing. Tennessee was completely unprepared for that game. The Vols were out-coached, they were not ready for Florida’s scheme, they were not ready for the crowd noise, and they were not ready for the challenge of playing an SEC opponent on the road. The Vols played with a complete lack of poise and composure through the entirety of the first half. The pre-snap penalties were infuriating and the clock management was frustrating.

What Heupel has accomplished in two-plus years in Knoxville is nothing short of incredible. However, I think it’s safe to say that the honeymoon is over. Call him a victim of his own success if you will, but Tennessee fans are going to demand more than what they got in Gainesville Saturday night. They’re rightly going to question how much of Heupel’s success was due to Hendon Hooker and Alex Golesh, and they’re rightly going to point out that while Heupel is 20-9 overall at Tennessee, he’s only 5-5 in true road games.

Let’s not get too carried away: Heupel isn’t on the hot seat and I’m certainly not suggesting that he should be. The way he has rebuilt the Tennessee brand in such a short period of time absolutely cannot nor should be discounted. What I’m saying is that we’re at that place that every coach inevitably reaches where fans start to nitpick at every flaw and shortcoming. And however spectacular his tenure at Tennessee may have been so far, Heupel deserves the criticism he is receiving for Saturday’s performance. And he said so himself in the postgame press conference, though not in so many words.

8.)  A good second half effort

So. We’ve got the bad out of the way. Now let’s talk about the good. Tennessee’s second half performance was much, much better. The Vols came out of the locker room at halftime and looked like an SEC title contender is supposed to look. The offense moved the ball successfully in the second half (even though they only had nine points to show for it) and the defense limited Florida to a single field goal.

The Gators’ game plan is partly the reason for that. Billy Napier and his staff chose to go into a shell, perhaps believing they had scored enough to win the game. But Tennessee couldn’t stop the run in the first half, and did a nice job of doing so in the second half. Give credit where credit is due. Joe Milton made some nice throws, and receivers made some nice catches.

Perhaps the most positive thing about the second half was the way Tennessee’s backs were running the football. There was a lot of determination and fight there.

9.) Why the shotgun?

I’ve complained about it ever since Butch Jones brought his “infallible” offense from Cincinnati to Knoxville: Why oh why go into a shotgun situation in fourth-and-short situations? I get it: You’re a shotgun team and that’s how your offense is designed. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when situations like Florida’s fourth quarter stop pop up.

10.) An awful officiating effort

If there was anything worse than Tennessee’s first half performance, it was the officials’ performance.

I don’t know if Tennessee could’ve completed a comeback against Florida with everything else being neutralized. I don’t know if the Vols deserved to complete the comeback. The first half performance was that dreadful.

But Tennessee didn’t have a chance of completing the comeback with that officiating crew. Level-headed UT fans will say, “Should’ve played better and kept it out of the officials’ hands.” Hey, you’ll get no argument from me on that point. But that doesn’t excuse the overlying issue — the one that will not be addressed by the SEC. There has to be accountability when the officiating is as bad as it was in Saturday’s game.

Tennessee beat writer Wes Rucker pointed out on Twitter after the game that there is no officiating conspiracy. In other words, officials don’t conspire against certain teams. It would’ve been better for the SEC if Tennessee won the game than if Florida won the game. All of that is obviously true. But you can’t blame fans who manage to convince themselves that there is some sort of grand conspiracy at play. Not after the Ole Miss game two years ago and then that debacle that we saw Saturday.

In fact, it had only been one week since an SEC officiating crew assigned to the Tennessee-Austin Peay game performed awfully. I said a week ago that the final score was made closer by botched calls by the officials. I still believe that, and I also think officials made a clear difference in Saturday’s game at Florida.

Forget the fact that Florida was not called for a single holding penalty all game (and if you didn’t see Florida commit several holds, you weren’t watching the same game I was). Forget any questionable call that occurred in the first half. Simply consider this: Tennessee turned the ball over on downs in Florida territory three times in the second half. On all three occasions, officials impacted the outcome.

The first time, when Tennessee was facing 4th and 1 inside the red zone, an official kicked the ball after spotting it, allowing Florida to substitute its short-yardage package.

The second time, a horrible “blindside block” against Tennessee took a first down away.

The third time, there was a no-call on pass interference in the end zone. On this last call, Florida would argue that the pass was uncatchable. That’s fair enough, but there was a second foul on the play that also wasn’t called: A hit on a defenseless player. Either way, the officials completely botched the play.

There was also the horrible call on the roughing the passer penalty against Tennessee. I don’t have as much of an issue with that call because Tennessee has to be more disciplined than it was in that situation. Don’t give the officials an opportunity to call it, in other words. But it was still a rotten play call.

Finally, even though it didn’t have a bearing on the game’s outcome, the final “late hit” that was called on Tennessee with four seconds remaining was a horrible call.

I don’t agree with Josh Heupel’s use of a time out with nine seconds remaining (though it was almost certainly in response to Billy Napier calling a time out the play before). Someone has to be the bigger man, and Heupel was just providing an opportunity for exactly what played out.

However, ESPN commentator Kirk Herbstreit is dead wrong when he implied that Heupel was responsible for what unfolded. Players have to be accountable for their actions. That goes for Tennessee players and Florida players. Florida players started that brouhaha, Tennessee players reciprocated, and if the SEC applies the letter of the law, there will be players from both teams who will miss next week’s games, because players from both teams were throwing punches. That’s a separate issue from the flag that was thrown against Tennessee, which was yet another completely inexcusable call by an officiating crew that acted like they were selected from somewhere along Fraternity Drive in Gainesville a couple of hours before the game.

When the ESPN crew of Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and even the network’s officiating expert are blatantly taking officials to task for game-altering calls, you know it’s bad.

If Tennessee’s first half performance hadn’t been as bad as it was, the officiating would’ve been an even bigger storyline in the game’s outcome. As it was, the officials firmly inserted themselves into the game in the second half. If the SEC is truly the nation’s elite football conference, it should have the nation’s elite football officials. And right now it isn’t even close.

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