JOE BIDDLE: Vols drop heartbreaker

UT Coach Butch Jones and Florida Coach Jim McElwain (Courtesy: CBS Sports)

When Tennessee fans, players and coaches watch the Florida game film, they won’t believe their eyes.

And to think we had to have special glasses to watch the bally-hood eclipse or lose your sight? I pulled mine out of the closet and put them on to watch the first half of the game. I put them away after the third quarter. One of these teams ranked in the Top 25 had to win.

That tells you all you need to know about Top 25 polls.

It was not a game for the ages. There was the good, the bad and the ugly for both teams.

Yes, the Vols gave it all to the bitter end, a 26-20 loss in the Swamp.

So how did Butch’s Boys lose a game they desperately needed?

Let me count the ways.

They missed three field goals, leaving nine points on the board in a game that they could have used.

Brent Cimaglia, a freshman from Franklin’s Page High School, and senior Aaron Medley, another Mid-State product from Marshall County, combined to go 2 of 5 made field goals.

Running back John Kelly was about all the offense the Vols needed, or had. He averaged 7.4 yards per carry and 16 yards per reception. He carried the mail 19 times for 141 yards and a touchdown and added 96 yards on six receptions.

But give the Gators their due. They closed the game with big plays while the Vols had a problem making game changing plays.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Vols.

They should handle Manhattan, which won’t impress anyone. Then they host SEC East favorite Georgia, then take an open week before facing South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Southern Miss, at Missouri and LSU and Vanderbilt.

They duck hooked a kickoff that went out of bounds, leaving Florida with a short field. The Gators took advantage of the Vols’ miscue.

They got a costly unsportsmanlike penalty after Kelly celebrated his touchdown by giving the Gator chomp to the raucous Florida fans.

I quit counting how many broken tackles the Vols defense had. I had to take my shoes off twice and my fingers were worn out when I finally gave them a time out.

Now Florida could look back with glee over the final score, but they could have as easily lost the game.

I’ll say this. If Phillip Fulmer and Steve Spurrier watched the game, they would have lost their appetite for dinner.

You have to like the fact the Vols came back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter. They held that 20-10 deficit with 5:13 left in the game.

Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks made the biggest play of the game when he threw a 63-yard strike to Tyrie Cleveland that sealed the Vols’ fate.

“Anytime you lose a tough game like this, you’re going to be mad,’’ said Vols defensive tackle Kendall Vickers. “That just shows the character of our team. Everybody is pretty upset about this loss, and they should be.’’

“Oh my gosh,’’ Cleveland said. “It was a great, awesome experience.’’

Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Contact him at joebiddle11@gmail.com.