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Know Your Opponent: Quick-Scouting the Florida Gators

This week’s quick-scout takes a look at Tennessee’s first SEC opponent of the year – the Florida Gators. Ever heard of them?

The Gators are 3-0 on the season, but have looked mostly unimpressive in their wins. They blasted a really bad New Mexico State team 61-13 in the opener, but then had to hold on late for wins over ECU (31-24) and Kentucky (14-9) in the last two weeks. Jim McElwain has changed the Gator offense, but change takes time…and so far, the offense has been inconsistent. Quarterback Will Grier started last week against Kentucky and played every snap for the Gators, but Treon Harris has looked improved under McElwain and will likely see some time this week against the Vols.

Defensively, Florida is still Florida. They are exceptional in the secondary, led by All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, and their defensive line looks like what we’ve come to expect from Gator squads. Johnathan Bullard, Cece Jefferson and Joey Ivey each are well-skilled at rushing the passer and have helped the Gator defense notch 11 sacks in their first three games.

But enough chatter, let’s look at the video from Florida’s rematch against ECU from week two:

0:55: Wow. ECU has Florida’s defense completely off balance on this drive. They are mixing up the run and the pass extremely well and Florida is struggling to identify the play and react accordingly. The mix of zone-read, draws, stretch runs and quick-passing game is exactly what Tennessee needs to do on Saturday to have some success. ECU’s offense is not that different from what Tennessee runs, so the Vols will have the ability to cause some problems on Saturday if they can execute. Tennessee MUST be willing to utilize slants to the middle of the field to beat Florida’s press coverage on the receivers.

1:02: And this is the payoff. Florida bites on the run and short-passing game, and as soon as they do ECU dials up a deep shot for a touchdown. Florida is in man coverage with safety help over the top, but the help is late and the perfect throw results in a touchdown. This is a throw that Dobbs has to be willing to make. Even though the defensive back, Quincy Wilson, is in great position, the receiver wins a 50-50 ball in the end zone and the Pirates take an early 7-0 lead. Avoid Hargreaves, score points.

1:18: Watch this entire drive (three plays) and look at the push/pass rush that the Gators are able to get from only four or five players. They are in the backfield before the ball, it seems, and ECU struggles to pick it up. Defensive Coordinator Geoff Collins mixes up his fronts and pressures to confuse ECU, and the result is a three-and-out.

2:58: Judging by the formation and down-and-distance, ECU has to think Florida is going to run the football here. But Florida uses ECU’s formation against them and hits the TE on the wheel-route for a big pickup. ECU has eight men in the box to stop the run, but Florida knows they have a mismatch with a linebacker guarding DeAndre Goolsby, so they send him deep and hit the big play. Depending on formation, Jalen-Reeves Maybin or true freshman Austin Smith will likely draw the assignment of covering Goolsby when he’s in the game. Look for Florida to try and exploit that matchup.

3:17: Really nice play design here to fake the pitch sweep and roll Grier out to his right. Grier isn’t Harris as far as running ability, but he has more than enough speed and athleticism to make a few plays with his feet. On this play, however, Goolsby is wide open (again) in the middle of the field and Grier flicks it to him for an easy touchdown. Tennessee HAS to be aware of the tight ends at all times on Saturday, because it’s clear that McElwain and Grier are comfortable when targeting them.

3:51: Watch linebacker Jarrad Davis fly into the backfield and secure the tackle for loss. This guy is on a mission this season and is playing some really nice football though three games.

4:09: Enter Treon Harris with limited offensive success.

4:45: Johnathan Bullard is an absolute beast…especially if you forget to block him.

4:50: Florida’s defensive line is just rolling at this point. ECU has no answer for the pressure and Florida is getting to the quarterback with ease, even when they only rush three linemen. If the Gators are able to apply pressure to Dobbs with only three or four rushers, then it will be an extremely long day for Tennessee’s offense.

5:21: This play gives me flashbacks to the last two games against Florida. When Harris is in the game, Tennessee has to do everything they can to keep him in the pocket and force him to throw the ball down the field. When he escapes the pocket, he is the most dangerous player on Florida’s offense due to his speed.

5:43: Case in point: When Harris is in the pocket, he isn’t as accurate and is prone to making poor decisions. Also, it’s pretty clear that Goolsby is a huge part of what Florida likes to do in the passing game.

6:23: Will Grier proves here that he can make a play with his feet when things break down.

6:33: This is really nice protection and an open receiver for Will Grier and he just throws a terrible, terrible pass. Much like what Oklahoma did to Tennessee, the Vols need to stack the box, stop the run, and force Will Grier and/or Treon Harris to beat them down the field. Florida lacks consistency in the deep passing game and their receivers are mostly unproven. Guard the tight end, put Cam Sutton on Demarcus Robinson and keep an eye on Brandon Powell and the Gator offense really doesn’t have a lot of weapons that can consistently create problems.

6:47: Florida’s problems along the offensive line are well-documented…and on this play they fail to block anybody for ECU. The Vols should have a distinct advantage up front on defense, so look for the Gators to relieve pressure with screens, draws and quick passes.

6:55: I understand that there was a little bit of pressure, but how on earth does Grier not make this throw in stride? That was as easy as it gets at the collegiate level.

7:06: Florida’s Marcus Maye breaks his leg (not really, but almost) biting on the double-move by the ECU receiver, and the Pirates get an easy touchdown after a turnover. Again, avoid Vernon Hargreaves and score points.

8:13: That’s now three wide receiver screens to Demarcus Robinson on this drive. He’s easily the most talented receiver the Gators have and they will try to get him the ball in open space to allow him to use his athleticism. Tackling in the open field and playing to their leverage on defense will be huge for John Jancek’s defense this Saturday.

8:18: This is a terrible decision by Will Grier and should have resulted in an interception.

9:01: This is just an outstanding read by Jalen Tabor in zone coverage to peel off of the top receiver and step in front of the out route. Florida’s defensive backs are too fast and too good to telegraph passes against.

10:37: Another target and another big play from Goolsby.

11:38: Receivers are open, but Harris takes off anyway for a big play that sets up a touchdown.

13:09: This drive is proof that throwing wide against Florida is not the way to beat them. Every time ECU goes wide, the defense swarms to the football and stops the play. But, when ECU attacks the middle of the field they are able to hit receivers in stride and move the football consistently against one of the better secondaries in the country. Tennessee hasn’t attacked the middle of the field very much in 2015, but they’ll need to make it a priority if they plan on moving the football through the air against the Gators.

14:30: This might have been a touchdown if not for a wet ball, but a late rain saved the Gators.

All in all, Florida still has talent, but they aren’t unbeatable. If Tennessee can protect the quarterback, then there are clearly plays to be made in the passing game without having to get too crazy or creative. Running the football will be tough, but the Vols have two capable backs with speed and power that should be able to wear down the Florida front seven over the course of the game.

Defensively, Tennessee is better than Florida’s offense, so the Vols will need to be mindful of misdirection, reverses, gimmicky plays and mismatches that Florida will try to create. Again, DeAndre Goolsby, Brandon Powell and Demarcus Robinson are all talented playmakers for Florida’s passing game, but none have been consistent enough to this point to think that Tennessee shouldn’t be able to contain them. Florida will struggle to run the football behind their young and inexperienced offensive line, which should force them into a lot of second/third and long situations. If Tennessee can stop the quarterback runs and not get beat over the top, then the Gator offense will struggle to score points.

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