Tennessee vs Florida
There were some big games on the week four slate, but the SEC east match up between the Volunteers and Gators seemed to be the best on paper, and it certainly didn’t disappoint, with Tennessee hanging on in the end to beat Florida 38-33. I’d seen the Gators already this season in their loss to Kentucky in week 2, but this was my first proper look at the Volunteers, and it’s clear both teams have plenty of draftable players amongst them.
We’ll start the round-up with the victorious Vols…
The Tennessee offense has come a long way in the 17 games Quarterback Hendon Hooker has been in control of it. Hooker was the games MVP, passing for 349 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 112 and another score. The stats are impressive but it’s the poise and decision making that really stand out with him, he seems to be in total control and understands this offense perfectly.
There were plenty of busted coverages which led to some big chunk easy throws, but the most impressive throw was a deep sideline pass just before half-time, putting it in a place only his receiver could make the catch, showing nice arm strength and accuracy. Hooker has always been talented; he just spent three years at Virginia Tech in an offense that never let him display his passing ability. Now his skills are on full show for everyone to see, and with a wide open QB3 race, why can’t Hooker be that guy, and ultimately a first round pick?
Star wide receiver Cedric Tillman was out with an injury so Tennessee needed others to step up, and three receivers did, each showing a different skill set. Whilst Jalin Hyatt and Ramel Keyton both proved reliable targets, it was receiver Bru McCoy who stood out.
McCoy has had quite a journey so far in his college career, going back and forth between USC and Texas before ending up in Tennessee for the start of this season. McCoy was ranked as a five star, number 9 overall player in the 2019 recruiting class, but he only saw 210 snaps in his USC career due to a variety of reasons.
Flashforward to now, through four games as a Volunteer he has played 244 snaps and has found a role as a complimentary weapon in this high powered offense. He had a couple of clutch big plays against Florida, showing nice hands and power after the catch, and the talent is very clear to see. He will be draft eligible, but with Tillman off to the NFL after the season, it might be wiser to stay and build on this promising break-out year.
Defensively the Vols played well against a dynamic quarterback, with the front seven really standing out. The cream of the crop for me was defensive tackle Omari Thomas.
He is very easy to spot in the middle as he’s so big (6’4 320lbs) but he moves so much better than someone of that size. Thomas has a powerful get off and was causing disruption all night, especially against the run. He’s not a stat filler, and his role doesn’t really allow him to produce, but he can force plays off design and change running game plans, and that is still a very valuable commodity to have in the NFL.
Late in the game, he made a big play, possibly the game clinching play, when he forced a fumble on an Anthony Richardson run deep in Tennessee territory, preserving their 10 point lead.
Thomas was a high end four star recruit (ranked 91 overall by 247 sports), but hasn’t really lived up to that billing yet, so let’s hope this is the start of some more dominant performances and he can get his name back on the NFL radar.
Edge Byron Young is on the smaller side for the position (6’3 245) but he has great speed and dip to scare the best college offensive tackles. He had two quarterback hits and five hurries in this game, so always around the action just never getting in on a sack. Young impressed me last year, which was his first season at Tennessee after spending time in the JUCO ranks, and he has carried it on so far this year too. Size and age (he is aged 24 already) will make him less appealing to the NFL, but that pass rush win rate is too impressive, especially in the SEC, to ignore completely.
Quarterback Anthony Richardson needed a bounce back game after two bad performances against Kentucky and South Florida, and he provided it here. This is what we wanted to see from him, poised, dynamic and with plenty of big plays thrown in too. Yes, he had the costly, aforementioned fumble, but he was the reason Florida stayed in the game until the end.
Richardson put up 453 yards and two touchdowns through the air, and an extra 62 yards on the ground and two more scores. Big numbers indeed, and the stats didn’t lie here. He looked every part a high draft pick, but he’ll need to keep this level of play up and not revert to the horrible inconsistencies that plagued him in the previous two games.
He is someone that in all honesty should probably go back next year and get more experience, but that size and arm strength will have NFL teams licking their lips, and the lure may be too great to leave. A lot can happen over the next ten weeks or so, but it was good to see Richardson play at such a high level again.
Wide receiver Justin Shorter was the main beneficiary of his quarterbacks big day, reeling in seven catches for 155 yards. Shorter is a big target at 6’4 223lbs, and he uses his body well to protect the catch zone. He helped his quarterback out when he was in trouble, consistently finding space in zones to provide a target for him. He is someone that has flattered to deceive for me in the past, but if Richardson keeps up his level of play, then Shorter will have more opportunities like this to show off the skills that made him a five star recruit coming out of High School.
Florida’s defense struggled to contain Tennessee, particularly as the game wore on. I thought linebacker Ventrell Miller and safety Rashad Torrence did well, but I’ll highlight a couple of highly rated guys who disappointed here.
EDGE Brenton Cox seems to have been around forever and is someone I’ve seen plenty of times, and generally I’m a fan of, but he does have the odd negative game like this. He couldn’t muster much of a pass rush against either Tennessee offensive tackle and wasn’t a factor against the run either. He can be somewhat one dimensional as a pass rusher and there didn’t seem to be a plan B for him, which considering the amount of experience he has is slightly worrying. He has been held sackless after four games so far this season, so he needs to get back on track soon or they’ll be production questions to answer come draft time.
Right now there is a lot of hype for defensive tackle Gervon Dexter, but I’m remaining slightly more cautious than most about him. I wrote about him last season after he blew up against Alabama, but what followed was inconsistent play for the rest of the season when I saw him. Well, the same is happening again this season, as he dominated against Kentucky in week two, but was downright average here against the Vols. Dexter can be such a frustrating watch as he has all the size and traits you want, it just appears that the light isn’t always on when he plays. He reminds me physically, and style wise, of Javon Kinlaw, who suffered the same inconsistencies in college, but he ended up going 14th overall in the 2020 draft. Dexter could easily go that high if he comes out, but Kinlaw is a great example of someone who still, after three seasons in the league, still hasn’t put it all together, and wasn’t worth the lofty selection.
We can’t end on a negative, so I’ll quickly mention redshirt freshman EDGE Justus Boone, who is someone with a very bright future. He absolutely looks the part at 6’4 260, and really flashed against the run in his limited role. He handled the Offensive Tackles much better than the previously mentioned Cox, and was winning with strength and effort, which is a good sign for a youngster. He was active in the game I saw earlier against Kentucky too, so this is someone I’m tucking away ready to explore in more depth next year, when he’ll be draft eligible.
By Keith Lucken – Follow Keith on Twitter @lordlucken
Find the rest of Keith’s scouting notes HERE