Tennessee at No. 19 Florida
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium “The Swamp” (88,458) • Gainesville, Fla.
Radio: Vol Network (106.5 FM Chattanooga)
Series Record: Florida leads 23-19
Why Saturday is important
This might not have the feel of a late-1990s bout between the Vols and Gators, but it is still Tennessee-Florida. There’s something to be said for that. One of the South’s best rivalries over the past few decades has declined into a one-sided affair, with the Gators winning the last eight meetings – many of them by a convincing margin. Tennessee is looking to bounce back from a disappointing 59-14 loss at Oregon. The Gators, meanwhile, had a week off after suffering a Week 2 setback against Miami. Florida enters as at least a two-touchdown favorite. They’ll hope to prove they can compete in the SEC East this year. Tennessee is looking to pull off its first shocker of the Butch Jones era.
Three things to know about Florida
The Gators are 1-1 on the year after a season-opening win over Toledo and a Week 2 loss at Miami. The loss to the Hurricanes dropped the national perception of Florida, but, in reality, the Gators played well at Miami, with the exception of several costly turnovers. If Florida cut out one or two of those, they could easily be 2-0 at this point. … Defense is the signature of this Florida team. The Gators are currently ranked third nationally in total defense (208.5 ypg). While they’re still looking for an identity on offense, the defensive side of the ball is loaded with experience and talent. It’s good on all three levels – the defensive line, linebackers and especially in the secondary. Offensively, returning starting quarterback Jeff Driskel has the arm strength and mobility to be an effective SEC quarterback, but has struggled with his decision making. The Gators are also looking for consistency in the run game. Getting starting running back Matt Jones back to 100-percent health (viral infection) should help. … Florida has owned this series, especially in recent history. The Gators have won eight straight, dating back to 2004. They’ve won four straight in Gainesville in the series, dating to 2003. The Vols have only won eight of the last 30 matchups total.
What you should know about Florida head coach Will Muschamp
Muschamp’s SEC ties run deep. A former safety at Georgia, he’s also had stints as the defensive coordinator at Auburn and LSU. He landed at Texas in 2010, where he was named head-coaching-in-waiting to head coach Mack Brown. … Instead of waiting for Brown to retire, he jumped on the opportunity to take over after Urban Meyer left Florida following the 2010 season. … He was also linked to the Tennessee opening in 2010 when Lane Kiffin left for USC, but opted to stay at Texas at that time. … After a rocky 7-6 campaign in 2011, he got the Gators heading in the right direction in 2012. They went 11-2 (7-1 SEC) before eventually falling to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. … He’s known for his intensity on the sidelines, his scowl and his defensive background. … While he was a defensive coordinator at Auburn and LSU, all five of his defenses ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense and the top 15 in scoring defense.
Tennessee player to watch
Whoever starts or plays at quarterback will be the focus. The best guess is that incumbent starter Justin Worley will get another shot despite coach Butch Jones’ decision to open up the competition this week in practice. Nathan Peterman appears to be closing the gap, though, There’s an outside shot he could start, or, at the very least, could relieve Worley if he gets off to a bad start.
Florida player to watch
Defensive lineman Dominique Easley is one of the best overall players the Vols will see this year. Even UT’s veteran offensive line might struggle to block the athletic and physical D-lineman, who was a regular in Tennessee’s backfield when these teams met in 2012. He’s just one of multiple NFL prospects on Florida’s D. Linebacker Ronald Powell, cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy and linebacker Antonio Morrison are among the other Florida defenders to keep an eye on.
Random facts to impress your friends
Tennessee hasn’t won a true road game in over 1,000 days (Vanderbilt, Nov., 2010). … It’s been much longer since the Vols have knocked off a ranked opponent on the road. That last happened in October of 2006, when UT knocked off then No. 10 Georgia in Athens. … UT hasn’t won its conference opener since knocking off the Gators in 2004. … Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni was an assistant at Florida in 2010 …. UT running backs coach Robert Gillespie played running back for the Gators from 1998-2001. … The Vols have two Gainesville natives on their roster – defensive end Jordan Williams and defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry, who will miss the game with a knee injury.
Jones on fixing the losing mentality at Tennessee: “Losing will never ever be tolerated here or accepted at the University of Tennessee, and it's unacceptable. You can search for all the excuses that you want, but winning is a habit and losing is a habit and it's unacceptable. Our players are going to understand that. It means talks about your week of preparation, it means players stepping up and making big time plays, it's preparing our team.”
The Vols will win if ...
They find a way to move the ball against Florida’s defense. It won’t be easy. They will have to play much better than they did at Oregon. They also will likely have to produce more long plays. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to sustain long drives, so despite their lack of playmakers, they’ll need to find a way to move the ball in chunks. Turnovers would help too. That’s one of the quickest ways to make up ground against a superior opponent.
The Vols will lose if ...
Florida’s offense can score 20 or more points. The Gators have been inconsistent on that side of the ball, but with their defense, they’ll just need to find a way to muster just a few scores – something they should be able to do against UT’s defense. Also, don’t discount the possibility of the Gators scoring via defense or special teams. They’ve had a knack for doing that against Tennessee in recent matchups.
Unofficial injury report:
Out: WR Devrin Young,CB Michael Williams, TE Alex Ellis, TE Justin Meredith, CB Riyahd Jones, TE Joseph Ayres, LB Curt Maggitt, WR Ryan Jenkins, DT Trevarris Saulsberry, LB Raiques Crump
Questionable: WR Johnathon Johnson
Probable: WR Pig Howard, DE Corey Vereen
Florida 31, Tennessee 10
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga
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