Tennessee football is cooking.

The Vols made it a little scarier than their fans would have liked, but they finished the job against No. 20 Florida. Tennessee is now 4-0 and figures to be a top-10 team next week for the first time with head coach Josh Heupel.

The implications for a win like this know no bounds, and there will be plenty of dialogue surrounding the Vols heading into their Week 6 matchup against LSU after a bye.

Let’s dip into the pot. Here’s 3 things I liked and 3 things I didn’t like from Tennessee’s 38-33 defeat of the Gators

3 things I liked

Strong end to the first half

Two events set the tone for Tennessee heading into halftime.

No. 1 came at the most important time it could have. Hendon Hooker fumbled on 4th down and gave Florida an opportunity to score and go up by 2 possessions heading into the locker room. Instead, Tennessee forced a huge stop that allowed Tennessee another crack at a go-ahead score.

The stop was the first test. Finding the end zone was another, especially considering the Vols had done so only once so far. Regardless, Tennessee marched for what was a backbreaking 12-play, 99-yard drive ending with Bru McCoy in the checkerboards.

That doesn’t happen without Ramel Keyton’s unbelievable snag on 3rd and 10.

Talk about a low-percentage catch. This was the catalyst to the Vols’ score with 7 seconds left in the half. Tennessee scored again out of the halftime break and never really looked back.

Tennessee’s defensive stop was the spark, but Keyton’s catch lit the fire. The end of the first half was where Tennessee truly won the day.

Trio of receivers looked good in Cedric Tillman’s absence

Tennessee receivers looked great on Saturday despite missing one of the best pass catchers in the SEC. Cedric Tillman was declared out with a leg injury before the game.

McCoy, Keyton and Jalin Hyatt picked things up in Tillman’s absence. It was a testament to Heupel’s offensive system and its ability to play to his receivers’ strengths. In total, receivers hauled in 13 passes for 223 yards.

McCoy led the way for the Vols, snagging 5 catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, which you can see below:

Florida has a strong secondary, too. Vols receivers were just better when it counted.

Another Hendon Hooker masterclass

This Hendon Hooker guy is good at football.

Before the game, Florida linebacker Amari Burney said that the Gators had a plan for the star quarterback.

Hooker threw for 349 yards, which is the most from a Tennessee quarterback against Florida since Peyton Manning threw for 353 in 1997. He also totaled 2 touchdowns through the air and 1 rushing touchdown. Did I mention his 112 yards rushing yet?

I’m not sure what else the country has to see – Hooker is a legitimate Heisman candidate and a top 3 quarterback in the SEC (alongside 2 other Heisman candidates). As long as he’s the signal caller, the Vols should be torching defenses all season long.

3 things I didn’t like

Defensive backs looked lost at times

It takes a special kind of struggle to make Anthony Richardson look like Aaron Rodgers in the passing game. Richardson missed some wide open receivers and still threw for a career high … in the first half. He totaled 453 yards in the air by game’s end.

Not to mention his first passing touchdown of the season came because of some of the worst tackling that’ll be seen in Neyland Stadium this year.

  Where to begin here? Hadden is ripping at the ball with help at first, which is OK, but then allows Keon Zipperer to waltz into the end zone as Trevon Flowers whiffs on a tackle of his own.

Tackling in space was a major problem throughout. Tamarion McDonald has a few whiffs in one-on-one situations, as did Christian Charles. Poor tackling was abundant Saturday, especially early.

Some will look at the final stat sheet and see Richardson’s vast number of incompletions as evidence to the contrary, but Tennessee’s secondary needs work if it wants to compete with the Georgias and Alabamas of the world.

Tennessee couldn’t get off the field on 4th down

Perhaps nothing is more maddening than an opponent asserting its will on 4th down. Vols fans will take delight in the scoreboard at the end of the day. but I’m willing to bet Florida’s 80 percent 4th-down percentage elicited a few swear words.

It was so much harder than it had to be all night. Tennessee’s defense never slammed the door shut, which can be looked past given the final score, but is still noteworthy moving forward for a team trying to win the SEC East.

The Gators converted 5 of 6 attempts on 4th down, including the touchdown preceding the fateful onside kick with less than 30 seconds remaining.

A win is a win and a nitpick is a nitpick, but do that against Alabama and the Vols may not be as fortunate.

The final 3 minutes

I’m sure Tennessee fans agree here … those final 3 minutes were excruciating. Tennessee has a thing for drama if you haven’t noticed. That was as dramatic and unnecessary a finish as possible.

Had Billy Napier not gone for 2 (for some reason) earlier in the game, the Gators very well could have tied it up at the end. I get it, butterfly effect and all, but that’s not a reassuring thought for Vols fans despite a 4-0 start and only the second win against Florida in the past 18 seasons.

I guess that’s why you build a 17-point lead.