No. 23 Tennessee (2-0) vs. No. 24 Florida (0-1)
Saturday, Sept. 16th, 3:30 p.m. ET
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (91,916) • Gainesville, FL
Series Record: Florida leads 26-20
Setting the table
Tennessee ended a streak against Florida last year when they snapped the Gators’ 11-game winning streak with a 38-28 come-from-behind victory in Knoxville. Now they are looking to end another streak by attempting to win in the Swamp for the first time since 2003. The Vols are coming off two straight wins to start the year while Florida is coming off an additional bye week because of a canceled game last week due to Hurricane Irma. But the Gators didn’t look sharp in their season opener against Michigan, losing 33-17.
Who has the edge
When Tennessee throws…
Florida has a young, inexperienced secondary that had an up and down day in the Gators’ loss to Michigan. The speedy secondary picked off two passes and returned each for touchdowns, but they also gave up a couple 40-yard passes and a score. The Gators’ front seven is still solid when it comes to generating a pass rush, and that means the Vols’ offensive line is going to have to play much better than they have to start the year. Quinten Dormady’s passes need to be more on target, and he can’t let the pressure fluster him. Edge: Slightly to Tennessee
When Tennessee runs…
The Gators were burned on the ground by Michigan’s offense in Week 1, and the Vols have routinely found success on the ground to start the season. Running back John Kelly has gotten off to a hot start, leading the team in both rushing yards and receptions. Tennessee will need more than just Kelly to get it going if they want to have success rushing the ball, though. The Vols’ backup running backs will need to make plays too, and Dormady (or whoever is in at quarterback) will need to keep it on the read option a few times as well. Edge: Tennessee
When Florida throws…
The Gators’ passing attack looked out of rhythm against Michigan to start the season, but the big play potential is still there from Florida’s wideouts. Florida completed three passes of over 20 yards, and as bad as both Feleipe Franks and Malik Zaire looked during the game, neither threw an interception. Florida’s wide receivers are their biggest weapons, but they need a quarterback to deliver them the ball. Tennessee’s pass rush has thus far been unimpressive, and the secondary hasn’t looked exceptional either. Edge: Slightly to Florida
When Florida runs…
It’s hard to take away a ton from the Gators’ first game of the season, but their rushing attack was absolutely abysmal in that game. Florida managed to rush for a paltry 11 yards on 27 carries in the game. Zaire was credited for 8 carries for -29 yards, but even if you take that out the Gators managed just 40 yards on 19 carries. Lamical Perine and Mark Thompson are both skilled backs, but Florida’s offensive line was abused against Michigan. Georgia Tech ran all over the Vols to the tune of 500-plus rushing yards, but the defense in that game wasn’t helped out by the offense either. The defense will need to regroup and attack better in this one to make Florida’s running game a non-factor. Edge: Slightly to Tennessee
On special teams…
If Evan Berry plays in this game, the Vols definitely have the edge on special teams. As of now, he’s still questionable to play. Ty Chandler filled in nicely for him against Indiana State, but that’s against an FCS opponent. Both teams have exceptional punters, and Florida still has quality returners even with Antonio Callaway expected out for this game. The Gators’ kicker, Eddie Pineiro, has been solid thus far in his career, while Aaron Medley has yet to attempt a field goal for the Vols this season. The two teams are more evenly matched in this regard without Berry back to return kicks. Edge: Push
Best-case scenario for UT
The Vols go down to Gainesville and do something they’ve only done twice since the SEC split into divisions in 1992: Win in the Swamp. Tennessee would own back-to-back victories over the Gators if they get the win, and it would give the Vols an early 1-0 start in SEC play. Beating Florida to start conference play is such a rare occurrence for the Vols, and it’s just the type of boost this young team needs if they are to defy expectations.
Worst-case scenario for UT
The worst possible outcome for the Vols would be to go down to the Swamp and lay an egg. Losing for a seventh-straight time in Gainesville would be bad enough, but it would be even worse considering the way the Gators looked in their lone game before this one.
How we think it’ll play out
This game has all the potential to be an ugly, defensive struggle with the way things are shaping up in this one. The weather looks like it will be nasty as well, and that won’t help either offense very much either. Tennessee has the edge at most of the positions in this one, but the Gators always have a sizable home field advantage when playing in the Swamp. The Vols will have to remain poised if they want the win, and the Gators will have to play much more efficiently on offense if they want to come away victorious.
Nathanael: 17-14 Florida
Will: 16-13 Florida
Ben: 21-20 Tennessee