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September 21, 2013

Quick HiTs: Offensive woes seal Swamp setback

GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- An offense that struggled a week ago at Oregon took a step back Saturday at Florida --- and Tennessee took another setback in the won-loss column in the process.

Turning over the ball four times and unable to capitalize on many gifted opportunities from the host Gators, the Vols fell 31-17 in a disastrous first career start for quarterback Nathan Peterman.

A redshirt freshman from Fruit Cove, Fla., Peterman had garnered the starting job with his practice-field performance and preparation throughout the week following Tennessee's 59-14 loss at Oregon.

But the offense was an unmitigated disaster, particularly during a first half in which the Vols managed just 31 total yards on 25 plays and possessed the ball little more than nine minutes.

Tennessee took an early 7-0 lead on Devaun Swafford's 62-yard pick-six interception return off Florida starter Jeff Driskel, who was injured on the play and did not return.

It mattered little in the grand scheme as redshirt-junior signal caller Tyler Murphy sparked the Gators off the bench, first with his legs and then effectively enough through the air once Tennessee's defense was forced to loosen.

By the game's late stages, Tennessee's defense simply wore down as it was forced onto the field for long stretches and couldn't generate enough third-down stops or pressure. When Murphy darted into the end zone from 7 yards out early in the fourth quarter, the Gators had outgained the Vols 362-96, held a 16-minute edge in time of possession (31 to 15) and also had snapped off 62 plays to Tennessee's 38.

Now first-year head coach Butch Jones faces an all-new challenge. Though the Vols host South Alabama next Saturday at 12:21 p.m. on the SEC TV game of the week, Tennessee faces October challenges against visiting Georgia (Oct. 5), South Carolina (Oct. 19) and at two-time defending BCS champion Alabama.

Jones talked of an open competition at quarterback and at tailback, where Rajion Neal fumbled on the Vols' first possession for the second-straight week, after the Oregon loss. While Peterman started and was relieved by Justin Worley late in the second quarter, freshman Riley Ferguson did make the trip and has appeared to be the closest competition of the Vols' first-year players.

Tennessee also must find a way to heal several battered players. The Vols are thin at slot wideout, with injuries to Devrin Young and Johnathon Johnson, and also are facing the potential of Curt Maggitt possibly redshirting this season if the junior linebacker/end does not soon return. While Corey Vereen made his collegiate debut at defensive end, the Vols remained without the suspended Maurice Couch and the injured Trevarris Saulsberry along the defensive interior.

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