Oregon transfer Dont'e Thornton was rare bright spot for Vols in the Swamp

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee junior receiver and Oregon transfer Dont'e Thornton had three catches for 53 yards during last Saturday night's loss at Florida.

Tennessee's list of football players who had their best game of the season during last weekend's 29-16 loss at Florida is not a long one, but Dont'e Thornton is on it.

The junior receiver and Oregon transfer was targeted four times against the Gators and collected three receptions for 53 yards. Thornton's most notable catch was a 43-yarder midway through the third quarter to Florida's 26-yard line in a drive that ultimately ended with the Volunteers losing the ball on downs and continuing to trail 26-10.

In Tennessee's first two games, the 6-foot-5, 214-pounder from Baltimore was targeted six times but had only two catches for 12 yards.

"He is a freak athletically with his size and speed combination, but what we do is different, and sometimes there is a learning curve," Vols offensive coordinator Joey Halzle said this week. "You saw Jalin Hyatt and how from year one to year two was different. You saw Dont'e on Saturday night make a big play down the field.

"He got some balls on the edge and made a guy miss."

The No. 23 Vols enter Saturday's home game against the University of Texas at San Antonio (4 p.m. on the SEC Network) having produced different receiving leaders through the first three games. Bru McCoy had five receptions for 94 yards against the Gators, which followed Ramel Keyton amassing five catches for 52 against Austin Peay and Squirrel White snagging six for 45 in the opener against Virginia.

McCoy, Keyton and White were Tennessee's starting receivers in last December's Orange Bowl and have comprised the starting trio so far this season, but Thornton bounced back from a frustrating outing against Austin Peay that included a drop to show against Florida why the Vols could use four receivers this season after primarily using three the past two years.

"You're seeing him grow, and what I love about Dont'e is that his attitude hasn't shifted," Halzle said. "All he's doing is trying to figure out how he can get more production. He has been meeting extra as much as anybody, and that is what's great about him.

"I expect his productivity to continue to grow as we go through the season."

Outside opinions

Vols head coach Josh Heupel held his final news conference of the week Thursday and was asked whether sixth-year senior quarterback Joe Milton III has paid attention to any criticism following the loss in Gainesville.

"If you think your value is based off outside opinion when it's going well or when it hasn't gone as well as you would have liked it to, you're putting yourself in a situation to be up and down," Heupel said. "We've got to be consistent in our preparation. We've got a plan for them every week, and they've got to be in their routine.

"Joe has things that he can do better, but the guys around him can do things better, too. If you're in second-and-20 all day, it makes things really difficult."

Odds and ends

Tennessee will wear orange jerseys and orange pants against UTSA, which will mark the fourth different uniform combination in four games. ... Heupel said Thursday that redshirt junior tackle Gerald Mincey will play, senior cornerback Doneiko Slaughter "should be available" and that the status of senior center Cooper Mays would be a game-time decision. Mincey played on special teams against the Gators, while the other two did not play at all.

Contact David Paschall at [email protected].