Our “blueprint” takes a deeper look at UT’s upcoming matchup, and focuses on what UT needs to do to win the game. It’s not necessarily indicative of how we expect the game to go.
When Florida is on offense
So far, Florida’s offense under Jim McElwain/Doug Nussmeier ranks 111th out of 128 teams nationally, while the Vols rank 52nd. Through three games, the Gators have amassed 792 passing yards (mostly via Luke Del Rio) and 606 rushing yards. However, the Gators are expected to be without Del Rio against the Vols. Senior transfer (Purdue) Austin Appleby will be making his first start on the road in Neyland Stadium.
While at Purdue, Appleby went 268-of-485 (55.2%) for 2,777 yards, 19 touchdowns and 19 picks in a three-year span. He made his first appearance for the Gators last week after Del Rio sprained his MCL against North Texas. He went 2-of-5 for 30 yards in limited action.
Del Rio received the starting position from McElwain for being credited with making the best decisions, while Appleby has the bigger arm. Appleby is a former Elite 11 quarterback and was highly touted coming out of high school in 2012, so he’s not exactly a pushover. Recent contests with the Gators have proven to be unfortunate for the Vols when a backup quarterback enters the game, so Tennessee fans are hoping that trend does not continue.
Florida’s offense is a tough one to grasp. It contains mixtures of almost every type of concept that’s out there. The run game contains a hybrid zone/man blocking scheme, with seven primary concepts — inside zone, outside zone, power, strongside/weakside counter, draw and zone toss. The passing game is similarly complex with a number of concepts run at all levels — curl-flat, levels, deep over, and so on. Nothing revolutionary, but dressed up to create confusion.
The offense likes to create pre-snap confusion by bringing guys into motion constantly, mainly in a pistol formation with two tight ends and two wideouts. Even on the most basic plays like an inside-zone run, Florida will motion its tight end/H-back to try and disguise the call, overload one side of the defensive front, and force communication from the defense. The Gators will also shift formations into play designs rather than simple audibles. Basically, the quarterback has free reign to change the original play completely based on defensive looks. With the Gators starting a new quarterback with zero SEC experience, the Vols will need to disrupt Appleby the entire game in order to slow down their offensive rhythm.
The Gators are also creative in the red zone. Florida’s offensive line last year and even this year, may not be good enough to line up and punch the ball for a score against the SEC’s best defenses, so enters McElwain’s creativity. The Vols could definitely see Wildcat formations, unbalanced lines, jet sweeps, additional lineman, increased tempo, or even defensive linemen as fullbacks.
This contest will certainly be Bob Shoop’s biggest test so far this year. Last season, the Vols defense gave up a 4th and 14 for a game-winning score due to soft coverage. With Appleby’s inexperience and a questionable offensive line, Shoop will need to bring the pressure all game long.
Players are going to have to step up in this game, especially in the back seven thanks to various injuries. On the defensive edges, guys like Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen have a chance to really to be disruptive. Jalen Reeves-Maybin is expected back this week, so that’s good news for the linebackers. The bad news is Darrin Kirkland Jr. is still out, so Colton Jumper will need to step up big time as well. In the secondary, Justin Martin returns in Cam Sutton’s spot with Emmanuel Moseley lined up as the left corner. Tennessee’s safeties have played solid games, and Micah Abernathy has been a playmaker since the start of the season.
Shoop will need to bring some various blitzes and disrupt the Florida backfield. He has done well with in-game adjustments, so if he can continue that against Florida, then the defense should be able to hold up against what appears to be a mediocre Gator offense.
When Florida is on defense
The story is much different on the other side of the ball for the Gators. Florida ranks first overall in total defense by allowing an average of 130 yards per game. Through three games, they’ve only allowed 14 points. Even though the numbers are very impressive, it’s also worth noting that the Gators’ toughest opponent so far has been a weak Kentucky team. Florida defensive coordinator Geoff Collins has a lot to work with, and it’s guaranteed he will have his unit ready for this game.
On the defensive front, the Gators have some solid players including CeCe Jefferson, Bryan Cox, and Caleb Brantley. They have a combined 16 sacks through three games, which also ranks first in the nation. The Vols’ offensive line has struggled so far this season, so they will need to be on their best game in order to keep this stout defensive line from causing too much disruption.
Collins runs a more traditional 4-3/4-2-5 defense, but likes to use some deception. The two defensive tackles usually line up on top of, or just over the outside shoulder, of the offensive guards. The defensive line spaces out evenly between the gaps. Collins is also known for shifting the line towards the weakest side of the offensive line, which could cause problems for the Vols up front since they’ve struggled so much. If Collins can pinpoint a certain weakness up front, then things could get ugly early on.
The linebacking corps is also loaded with talent. Senior Jarrad Davis is one of the best linebackers in the SEC. Alex Anzalone is also another solid veteran. With the 4-3 defense, the linebackers make or break the unit. They must have good tracking and pursuit abilities. Collins will run a lot of drop zones where a linebacker or two might drop back as robbers. He also disguises blitz packages through fake drop zones, and rush an outside linebacker with either a safety or even a corner. With players like Davis and Anzalone, Josh Dobbs will have to be smart with the ball. However, the Gators’ defensive line and linebackers struggled last year when the Vols designed vertical runs. DeBord needs to attack the middle with a mixture of Dobbs, Hurd and Kamara. If he can do that, then the Vols have a chance in the run game as long as the offensive line plays decently. A pistol formation with all three in the backfield could cause mismatches with Florida’s linebackers.
In the secondary, the Gators boast some more talent. Jalen “Teez” Tabor is the best cornerback in the SEC, and maybe the nation. He is also joined with Quincy Wilson at the opposite corner. The Gators also return safety Marcus Maye, who could’ve turned pro last season. Maye is joined by Nick Washington at the other safety spot. Collins also utilizes Duke Dawson as a nickel in the 4-2-5 look.
The one thing that stands out about the secondary is the overall unit speed. Last year, the Vols actually had some huge plays through the air. They will need to attack this secondary successfully in order to help secure a victory. Dobbs will need to air it out some, but he has to be careful against this unit. Tabor will most likely be lined up over either Josh Malone or Preston Williams. However, the Vols do have a few options at receiver. Several guys like Jauan Jennings, Josh Smith (health pending), and Tyler Byrd should be able to have some success since Collins will most likely focus his attention towards Malone. Also, offensive coordinator Mike DeBord needs to attack more with the tight ends. Jason Croom had a nice game last week, and Ethan Wolf is usually a sure option.
The Vols need to keep the offense spread out and take more shots downfield in order to beat the Gators. If the playbook can be opened up like it was early in last year’s game, then the Vols will surely have a chance. You have to believe that Butch Jones and DeBord have a few tricks saved for this one. It’ll be a challenge, but if the Vols can execute better on offense, the streak very well may come to an end on Saturday.