Editor’s note: For SEC games this season, Daniel Lewis will be putting together a blueprint for how Tennessee can have its best chance to knock off that week’s opponent. It’s written from a Tennessee coach’s mindset and isn’t necessarily representative of how RTI predicts the game to go.
Offense: We have a tough, tough task this weekend, but, honestly – it isn’t as bad as we thought it would be in the preseason. Florida has athletes all over the field, but that defensive front seven isn’t quite as dominant as we feared a couple month ago. It helps that defensive tackle Leon Orr is out and that linebacker Michael Taylor is highly questionable. We might be catching a break there.
Even better, their secondary is a mess right now. Vernon Hargreaves III is still a stud, though even he got exposed a few times against Alabama (granted, we don’t have Amari Cooper). At the end of the day, Florida’s defense is still talented, but just not that great at this point. We have to realize that it will improve over the bye week. They might start to work some more young, athletic players such as corner Jalen Tabor into the mix – we have to be aware of that.
Nothing on offense is really off limits, though. We’ll have to identify Donte Fowler Jr. on every play. He killed us last year with a better offensive line, so we have to do a better job against him – shift the extra protection to his side – whatever it takes. We’ll stay away from too many long drop-back passes, though with some of the communication issues UF’s secondary’s had, we’ll take a few shots on those. Like last week, we don’t have to be dominant on the ground, but averaging around 4.0 yards per carry will help us stay in front of the chains. That’s probably the biggest key for us again this week. We’re simply not good enough to hold off the pass rush when other talented defensive fronts know what’s coming. We’ll get Marlin Lane and Derrell Scott a few touches, but this is Jalen Hurd’s game to win on the ground. He needs 25-30 touches.
If we find decent rhythm in the run game, we’re going to have a big day through the air. Even if Von Pearson can just give us 20-30 snaps, Florida will have to acknowledge his presence. They simply don’t have enough talent to cover him, Marquez North, Pig Howard, Josh Malone, Ethan Wolf and the other weapons we have. IF we avoid catastrophic mistakes, we have a good shot. But we have to hold on to the ball. Florida does a great job of standing guys up and then ripping the ball out. It has to be tucked away and covered up every play.
Finally, let’s go for broke early. We’ll dial up a trick play or a route combination Florida hasn’t seen on film to get the early lead and get the crowd into it and help our defense out even more. Florida has to have some doubts in the back of their minds after their last couple games. Let’s expose them early and see if we can get them rattled for a change.
Defense: In the end, it’ll come down to our third-down defense, but what we do on first and second down is just as important. We lead the nation in third-down defense because we’ve done a good job of forcing third and longs. And Florida’s offense was exposed on third downs against Alabama. The Gators only converted one third down on longer than third and six. That’s the situation we have to put them in.
How do we do that? Todd Gurley isn’t walking on that field, but Florida can run the ball. Even after facing Alabama, the Gators are still averaging over 5.0 yards per carry with their two-headed rushing attack of Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor. Jones is a big kid – over 230 pounds – and he’ll get most of the work. Whether we want to say it or not, we got a little fatigued against Georgia and let Gurley loose in the second half. We still have a limited number of players we trust on defense, so the depth isn’t quite there. We can’t let them sustain long drives, so we have to commit to stopping the run first.
The good news is we might can do that with seven guys in the box, but we’ll put eight in there if we have to. We have to make Jeff Driskel beat us through the air, because he simply isn’t making great decisions in the passing game right now. We can’t let him pull it down and run either. We’ll get some of our better athletes like Todd Kelly Jr and Chris Weatherd on the field to help neutralize that.