Game Preview: Tennessee vs. Florida

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    Tennessee (2-1) vs Florida (2-1)

    Saturday, Sep. 22nd, 7:00 ET

    Neyland Stadium (102,455) • Knoxville, TN

    TV: ESPN

    Series Record: Florida leads 27-20

     Setting the table

    For the first time since 2006, the Vols and Gators will be kicking off at 7:00 PM in Neyland Stadium when the two face-off this Saturday. The Vols lost to Florida last year on a 63-yard Hail Mary as time expired, but the last time these two teams played in Neyland Stadium, UT emerged victorious with a 38-28 win. The Vols are playing in their first SEC game of the season while Florida is looking to avoid an 0-2 start to conference play after losing to Kentucky two weeks ago.

     Who has the edge

    When Tennessee throws…

    Jarrett Guarantano has done a good job of taking care of the football this season so far, and he’s managed the offense well. He’s connected on 72.2 percent of his 54 pass attempts and hasn’t turned the ball over once. He’s made some deep throws, but he hasn’t been asked to do too much as of yet. Florida’s pass defense ranks No. 1 in the SEC in terms of yards allowed per game, but they also haven’t been tested yet. They’ve only had 73 passes attempted against them on the season, the second-fewest in the conference. EdgeSlightly to Tennessee

    When Tennessee runs…

    The Vols have struggled to start games on the ground, but overall they’ve been pretty effective once they’ve gotten over their slow start. Tennessee is averaging 221.3 yards per game on the ground and are averaging five yards per carry. Florida has been bad at stopping the run to start the year. The Gators are giving up the third-most rushing yards per game in the SEC, allowing 198.3 yards per contest. But the Gators do get linebacker David Reese back for this game. Edge: Tennessee 

    When Florida throws…

    Feleipe Franks has looked improved over last season to start the year, but he’s also faced inferior competition for the most part. He’s tossed nine touchdowns compared to two interceptions, but he’s only completing just over half (53.2 percent) of his passes so far this year. Tennessee’s secondary is young, but they have potential. But the Vols’ pass rush has been ineffective to start this season, and this game will be their biggest test since West Virginia. Edge: Slightly to Florida

    When Florida runs…

    The Gators haven’t run the ball as much as the Vols to start this year, but they’ve been effective when they’ve run it. Florida is averaging 185 yards per game on the ground and a healthy 5.7 yards per carry. But they weren’t quite as effective against Kentucky, their lone SEC/Power Five opponent this season, running for only 128 yards and no touchdowns on 29 attempts. The Vols, meanwhile, have been much better defending the run this season than they were last year. Tennessee is only giving up 112.7 yards per game on the ground, and they haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown yet this season. But Tennessee hasn’t faced a rushing attack the caliber of Florida’s this season. Edge: Even 

    On special teams…

    Tennessee’s special teams haven’t done much this year, and they’ve had one big highlight and one big lowlight. The Vols blocked a punt and returned it for a score against ETSU, but they fumbled a punt against UTEP that could’ve led to points for the Miners had they had a better offense. Punter Joe Doyle has effectively set opponents up with bad field position, but UT’s kicking game has rarely been tested. Florida has been pretty steady on special teams, and they have a punt return for a touchdown by Freddie Swain as well. They’ve only missed one field goal on the year, and that was a controversial miss against Kentucky. Edge: Slightly to Florida

     Best-case scenario for UT 

    If Tennessee can find a more efficient pass rush and/or get more consistency out of their offensive line, they should be able to force a turnover or two and pick up steady yards on the ground. A win to start off conference play would be a great boost for a Vol squad that will be facing a gauntlet over the next month of play.

     Worst-case scenario for UT

    Tennessee can’t find a way to fix some of the problems that have ailed them for the first three weeks, and Florida harasses Jarrett Guarantano all day, force him to make mistakes, and leave Knoxville with a win. A loss to the Gators would make the Vols’ chances of making a bowl game diminish quite a bit.

     How we think it’ll play out

    With the way these two teams have started out the season, the consensus seems to be that this game won’t be a high-scoring contest. But most are expecting it to be a close game. The RTI team, somewhat surprisingly, all think the Vols will win in a nail-biter.

    Our picks:

    Nathanael: Tennessee, 20-19
    Ben:
    Tennessee, 24-21
    Charley:
    Tennessee, 20-13