The Truth Behind the Most Important Stat in the Vols-Gators Series

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    Photo By Austin Perryman/Tennessee Athletics

    Every year, there’s always one stat that gets tossed about when discussing the annual rivalry between Tennessee and Florida. Every year, both fan bases like to mention that the team that runs the ball better always wins the match-up between the two teams.

    But how accurate is that claim?

    Over the last three years, that stat has actually been untrue twice. Dating back to the 2015 contest, the team that’s run the ball more effectively has actually lost the game two of the last three years.

    In 2015, the Vols dominated in the run game, out-rushing the Gators 254 yards to 109 yards. But Florida ended up winning 28-27 down in Gainesville. In last year’s contest, Tennessee also out-rushed Florida, totaling 183 rushing yards to the Gators’ 168 yards. But Florida also won that game, prevailing 26-20.

    Aside from those two instances in the last three years, however, the old adage has actually held up surprisingly well.

    Dating back to the 2004 game between the two teams, the team that has run for more yards in this annual rivalry has won 12 of the last 14 contests. The Vols ran for more yards in their only two wins in that span (2004 and 2016) while the Gators out-rushed the Vols in 10 of their 12 victories over Tennessee in that time.

    In 2004, the Vols beat Florida 30-28 and out-rushed the Gators 171 yards to 135 yards. In 2016, Tennessee totaled 179 rushing yards compared to Florida’s 106 yards and won 38-28.

    Aside from those two wins and the 2015 and 2017 games, the Vols have been out-rushed by the Gators in every other contest dating back to 2004. And often times, Florida has absolutely dominated Tennessee in the ground game.

    Over the last 14 match-ups between the two teams, Florida has totaled 2,308 rushing yards compared to just 1,289 rushing yards by Tennessee. The Gators have averaged 164.9 rushing yards per game when they play the Vols over the last 14 seasons, while Tennessee has averaged just 92.1 rushing yards per game against Florida.

    The Vols have been held below 100 rushing yards as a team against Florida nine times over the last 14 contests between the two schools. Tennessee has only held the Gators under 100 rushing yards once in that same span.

    In fact, Tennessee has been held to under 50 rushing yards against the Gators five times over the last 14 seasons, and that includes two times when the Vols actually totaled negative rushing yards against Florida. Tennessee had negative 11 rushing yards against the Gators in 2006 and totaled negative nine yards on the ground against them in 2011.

    This year, the Vols could possibly continue their recent trend of out-gaining the Gators on the ground if the first three weeks of the season have been any indication.

    To start this season, Florida actually has one of the worst run defenses in the SEC. They’ve allowed 198.3 rushing yards per game in their first three games after only giving up 153.9 yards per game on the ground last season. So far this year, the Vols are averaging 221.3 yards per game on the ground after totaling 345 yards on 50 carries last weekend against UTEP.

    Unlike last year, the Vols’ run defense has actually been pretty stout to start this season. After giving up an SEC-worst 251.3 yards per game on the ground to opponents last year, Tennessee has started out this season by only allowing 112.7 rushing yards per game to opposing teams and haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown yet this season.

    Recent history has somewhat bucked the trend of the more dominant running team winning in this rivalry. But all in all, history does show that the team who can run more effectively usually controls this game, and that bodes well for Tennessee heading into Saturday’s match-up.

    Nathanael Rutherford
    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.