Prediction Panel: No. 23 Tennessee at No. 24 Florida

    by -

    Nathanael’s Pick:

    On paper, the Vols have the advantage at most positions in this game. Tennessee should have the advantage when they’re on offense and defense, and if Evan Berry plays, they should have a slight advantage on special teams too.

    So why do I have such a hard time picking the Vols in this one?

    Is it because the Gators should be emotionally charged for their first home game of the season, especially after the events of Hurricane Irma? Is it because the Vols haven’t won in the Swamp since 2003 and it seems like all they do in Gainesville is play poorly?

    Yes, all of that has gone through my mind. As has the fact that I don’t think Florida is quite as bad as everyone thinks right now.

    The Gators looked bad, and I mean really bad, against Michigan. But the defense, at least from what I saw, didn’t play as poorly as most people assume from just looking at the highlights and box score. Florida’s offense had 12 possessions against Michigan, and seven of those lasted four or fewer plays. Florida’s defense was put in bad positions time and time again, yet they still only allowed 26 points (Michigan scored a defensive touchdown).

    An example of that is when Michigan started two drives in Florida territory off Gator turnovers in the second half. On both occasions, the Gators’ defense held Michigan to a field goal despite the Wolverines starting in prime position to score a touchdown.

    I also don’t think Florida’s offense is as bad as it seemed in their first game. The rushing attack looked horrible, and the Gators’ offensive line looked out-matched. But the passing game, though wildly inconsistent, found ways to make some big plays, completing at least three passes of over 20 yards despite the overall ineptitude.

    The big play ability is there. Tennessee’s defense hasn’t looked particularly sharp so far this season. And Quinten Dormady is making his first ever road start and has had more than a few off target throws already this year. Florida’s speedy secondary, albeit young as well, will take advantage of those mistakes in ways Georgia Tech and Indiana State didn’t.

    I just don’t feel good about this game. Not in any way, even though the Vols should have the edge at most positions. I’m sorry for being a downer for those of you looking for optimism. I think Florida wins an ugly, defensive battle just like in 2014.

    Pick: Florida 17-14

    MVP: Josh Hammond, WR

    Two years ago, Antonio Callaway had the game-winning big play for the Gators in the Swamp. This year, I think that player for Florida will be Josh Hammond. He has big play ability, as does Tyrie Cleveland. But I think Hammond will go the way of Callaway and make a play late that helps give the Gators the decisive score.

    Will’s Pick:

    This was tough.

    Until the Vols beat Florida in The Swamp, I can’t pick them to win. I’ve seen this story too many times. Florida’s offense looks abysmal coming into the game with the Vols, but an unsung hero somehow steps up, carrying the Gators to victory. That being said, I think Tennessee is the better team, and on paper it should win. I just think it’s likely that the Vols’ offense struggles with a first year starting quarterback in Gainesville.

    Pick: Florida 16-13

    MVP: Darrell Taylor, DE

    This is the week where Tennessee’s defense finally figures it out. Taylor is going to lead that charge. I think the redshirt sophomore has at least one sack in this game, leading Tennessee’s defense to a solid performance against a bad offense. Taylor’s also going to be called upon in the option defense, where he’s been great so far this season. Tennessee needs him to have a big game, and I think he will.

    Ben’s Pick:

    All week, I’ve been going back-and-forth on who I think will win this football game. I can tell it’s Florida week, because as the week has moved along, I’ve become more-and-more confident in the Vols chances to march into Gainesville and pick up a win.

    With that said, I’m rolling with Tennessee in this one.

    While Tennessee has questions to be answered, Florida has far more. Against Michigan, the Gators offense was atrocious. The offensive line was bad, the quarterback room is unsettling, and the Gators are missing both their leading receiver and leading rusher. Tennessee’s defense has struggled to begin the season, but the Vols defense should be able to have success against this Gators offense.

    On offense, Tennessee has an edge at every position group, but it all starts up front with the offensive line. In order for Quinten Dormady and John Kelly to have big games, the offensive line has to have their best game.

    Pick: Tennessee 21-20

    MVP: John Kelly, RB

    Kelly is the heart and soul of this football team. In order for the Vols to go into the Swamp and come out with a win, Tennessee has to run the ball well. And that’s exactly what they’ll do. Expect Kelly to have a Travis Stephens and Jabari Davis type of performance down in Gainesville on Saturday afternoon.