Opponent Preview: Florida Gators

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    Record: 0-1
    Conference: SEC
    Head Coach: Jim McElwain, 3rd season (19-9)
    Team Nickname: Gators
    Location: Gainesville, Florida

    Leading Passer: Malik Zaire – 9-of-17, 106 yards
    Leading Rusher: Mark Thompson – 5 carries, 13 yards
    Leading Receiver: Josh Hammond – 3 receptions, 71 yards

    The Florida Gators have only played one game this season because their Week 2 match-up with Northern Colorado was canceled due to Hurricane Irma making its way through the state of Florida last weekend. And in that one game, Florida was less than impressive in nearly every aspect.

    Florida lost to Michigan 33-17, and the Gators’ offense only scored 3 of those 17 points. The Gators had two interceptions they returned for touchdowns, and they were still blown out by Michigan. The Wolverines piled up 433 yards of offense while Florida managed to gain just 192 total yards on offense, and only 11 of those came on the ground. Florida earned just nine first downs and converted a mere two of their 13 third down attempts.

    The big question coming out of Florida’s game against Michigan is how much of their poor offensive performance was on their offense and how much of it was because of Michigan’s stout defense.

    Michigan’s defense last season was one of the best overall defenses in the entire country. They lost almost all of their starters off that defense heading into this season, but the talent was still there, and it showed against the Gators. But how much of Florida’s inefficiency on offense was because of that Wolverine defense?

    Florida began the game with freshman Feleipe Franks at quarterback and ended it with Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire at the helm. And neither quarterback looked good. The two combined to complete just 14 of their 26 pass attempts for 181 yards and didn’t throw a touchdown. The passing game did show some big play ability with receptions of 34, 31, and 20 yards by three different receivers. But the rushing attack was abysmal. Michigan’s front seven wreaked havoc on Florida’s offensive line, and the Gators gained just 11 rushing yards on 27 carries.

    The Gators’ defense looked solid in the first half, keeping Michigan’s offense in check and scoring off two interceptions. But as the offense continued to struggle and not sustain drives, the defense kept having to trot out on the field, and it took its toll. Two of Michigan’s first three possessions to start the second half started in Florida territory because of Gator turnovers. Michigan didn’t have a three-and-out on offense in the second half till their last possession in the game, and then their defense followed that up by scoring a touchdown on a fumble on the ensuing Gator possession.

    Seven of Florida’s 12 offensive possessions lasted just four plays or less against Michigan. Part of that offensive ineptitude was because the Gators are without some of their best players.

    Florida currently has nine players suspended indefinitely this season, and those players include leading returning rusher Jordan Scarlett and leading returning receiver Antonio Callaway. As of now, it appears those players will still be unavailable to play against Tennessee this weekend. And that would hamper an already struggling Florida offense.

    The Vols were torched on the ground against Georgia Tech in their season opener, but Florida’s rushing attack appears anemic right now. Florida’s offense will have to find ways to help their defense out better if they want to avoid losing to Tennessee for a second consecutive season.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.