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Opponent Look Ahead: The Florida Gators


Florida vs Tennessee

When: Saturday, Sept. 24, Time TBA

Where: Knoxville, Tenn. (Neyland Stadium)

Florida at a glance

Head coach: Jim McElwain (2nd year, 10-4)

Conference: SEC

All-time record: 701-404-40

2015 results: 10-4 (7-1); Lost to Alabama 29-15 in SEC Championship, Lost to Michigan 41-7 in Citrus Bowl

Record against Tennessee: 26-19 ; Last meeting was a 28-27 victory for Florida; Gators have won 11 games in a row vs Volunteers

2015 Overview: The Florida Gators saw a lot of success in head coach Jim McElwain’s first year on the job. They lost just one SEC game in the regular season, earning a trip to the SEC Championship Game against Alabama. Obviously the Crimson Tide won and went on to become the National Champions, however considering the preseason expectations were finishing in the middle of the SEC East, the Gators were a lot better than many thought they would be.

At the same time, Florida also saw plenty of controversy in 2015. After earning the starting job, redshirt-freshman quarterback Will Grier tested positive for PED’s just a few weeks into the season and was suspended for an entire calendar year from football. When backup Treon Harris took his place, the Gators had already beaten Tennessee and then No. 6 Ole Miss with Grier at the helm.

Despite some late-season struggles, the Gators still proved to be a solid team for the most part. They had one of the best defenses in the nation with Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor leading the way. Florida finished eighth in total defense, 11th in scoring defense, and 13th in passing yards allowed. Overall, Jim McElwain proved to be a solid hire in his first year as coach for the Gators.

Three questions for this game:

1. Will either team allow emotions to take over?

Make no mistake about it, Jim McElwain and his team feel disrespected that everyone is picking Tennessee to not only beat them, but also win the East. After all, they’ve won 11 years in a row and just won the SEC East last year. Add in the trash talk exchanged between these two programs – mostly from Florida’s Jalen Tabor – and it’s easy to wonder how emotions will play in to this game. This game could very well get a little scrappy. And while you don’t really mind that between rivals, you don’t want penalties or emotional mistakes to shoot you in the foot.

2. Will Tennessee put its foot on the gas for 60 minutes?

You have to think for Tennessee to finally end the streak, the Vols will have to play pedal-to-the-metal for 60 minutes straight. Unless the Vols get up by 30 with two minutes to go, history has proven no lead is safe. Florida’s defense is good, and it will be a challenge to put up points on them. That means Tennessee can’t leave anything to chance. Score early, score often, make the big plays on special teams, and don’t let up on defense.

3. Can Florida score on Tennessee’s defense?

Both Tennessee and Florida will be very good on defense this year. I would even go as far as saying they could both finish Top-15 in the country. But frankly, they aren’t as evenly matched on offense. Tennessee has more talent and fire power on offense than the Gators, and they may struggle against Bob Shoop’s defense. Florida’s starting quarterback will be Luke Del Rio, who hasn’t completely blown coaches away in practice just yet. The Gators return the majority of their starters on offense except for quarterback, running back, and offensive tackle – but all three of those spots are crucial in having a successful offense in the SEC.

How do we expect it to play out?

Alright, look. I’m not one to say “this is the year,” but for cryin’ out loud, this is the year. Or at least is better be. Tennessee is simply better from top to bottom than Florida. Poor coaching decisions lost what should have been a win in The Swamp last season for the Vols, and the game figures to favor Tennessee even more this year in Knoxville.

Don’t get me wrong, Florida does have a good team. And its defense should be outstanding. But there is no excuse for this Tennessee team to lose this time. This game isn’t just a “should-win” for Butch Jones, it’s a “must-win.” Otherwise fans might revolt and the team could lose a lot of confidence early in the season. But to be honest, I expect the Volunteers to get it done. I’d say around 14 points is a likely margin as Tennessee ends the streak with a final score of 31-17.

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