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Insider Mailing: It’s Gator Hate Week Edition

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Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.

“If Tennessee beats Florida do the fans stop complaining/forget about the 0-2 start to the season?” – @htcook1999

Nathanael: I don’t think they’ll forget about the 0-2 start, especially that loss to Georgia State, but fans would be much more likely to forgive Tennessee and the coaches for that loss and the 0-2 start if UT somehow beats Florida in The Swamp. That loss was such a historic low that forgetting about it just isn’t in the cards. People still talk about Appalachian State beating Michigan, and that was well over a decade ago. But if the Vols go and do something they haven’t done since 2003 — win in Gainesville — then I think fans will definitely not hold that against this team quite as much.

Ben: Fans will be much happier, but the 0-2 start won’t be forgotten this season. Because if Tennessee wins, then the narrative will switch to, “Can you imagine if Tennessee had started 4-0?” It’ll be forgiven to a certain extent, but a different level of frustration will exist.

“Any chance that we’ll actually open the passing game up and throw it down field and let our WRs go get the ball like last year’s Auburn game?” – @GSix1987

“How much can Jim Chaney open up the offense this week? We have seen this year that JG’s decision making hasn’t been good. Will Chaney open it up or play safe?” – Sam

Nathanael: I included both of these together because I thought they asked basically the same thing: Will we see Tennessee’s offense open up against the Gators, or will it still be more conservative like it has been to start the season?

To me, I think UT absolutely opens it up this weekend. I don’t think that means you see a completely different offense than what we’ve all seen the first three weeks, but I do expect to see Tennessee to air it out a bit more. Florida’s biggest weakness on their defense is their secondary, and Tennessee has the weapons to exploit that at wide receiver, tight end, and at running back out of the backfield. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Guarantano attempt over 30 pass attempts in this game, something he’s only done one other time this season and only three times in his entire UT career.

Ben: I don’t think it’s a matter of Jim Chaney and Tee Martin simply opening up the passing game, but rather the players executing better. If Jarrett Guarantano and the offensive line had executed better through the first two weeks of the season, Chaney and Martin would have been more than happy to open up the passing game. They’re not going to call plays they don’t trust the players to execute, which is why we haven’t seen too many complex plays called.

“Do you expect Pruitt/Ansley to blitz more often than if Franks were playing? If Trask (who hasn’t started a game since his freshman year of high school) is going to try to beat us throwing, I wouldn’t give him more than a couple of seconds to make a decision.” – @MallardMasher77

Nathanael: I think UT will have to blitz a decent amount anyway because their defensive line hasn’t been good at all at generating a pass rush. How many players blitz and how often will be worth watching. I think sending more blitzes more often with a first-time starter is smart. Trask is probably slightly more athletic than he gets credit for, but he’s still not a dynamic runner and prefers to stay in the pocket. When Emory Jones is in the game, the strategy will change, though.

Ben: Not necessarily more often than usual, but I do expect Pruitt and Ansley to be aggressive. It’s simply in Pruitt’s nature. Against a quarterback starting for the first time, it makes quite a bit of sense to bring pressure and see how he responds. I expect Pruitt to turn up the heat early and often against Kyle Trask and the Gators.

“Do you think Pruitt feels pressure to at least be competitive in this game?” – Scott

Nathanael: Absolutely, as well he should. Tennessee took themselves out the game early in last year’s contest, and the Gators had a 14-0 lead by the end of the first quarter and led 26-3 at halftime. Then, UT fumbled the opening kickoff to start the second half, and Florida scored on their first play from offense after that, making it 33-3. If the Vols can at least cover the 14-point spread in this one, it’ll look a lot better than last year. Moral victories don’t buy you a ton of sympathy or support from fans, but that would be better than another embarrassing loss by a long shot.

Ben: Does he understand the importance of this game? Absolutely. Does he feel pressured? No. He doesn’t care what people think, and he doesn’t pay attention to the outside noise. This game is vitally important, and everyone in the building understands that. A win gets the fans off of Pruitt’s back for the time being, and a loss turns up the heat a tad bit more.

“Who’s mistake was bigger: Alontae Taylor’s or Bryce Thompson’s?” – Jimmy

Nathanael: Undoubtedly it’s Bryce Thompson for me, and I don’t even understand why this is a question. Taylor’s mistake was a football play. He was at least out there with his team and was in a position to make a play. He didn’t, but he was at least on the field. Thompson made a boneheaded choice, let out his anger against a woman, and ended up putting himself in a position he shouldn’t have been, and it caused him to be suspended. He wasn’t out there against BYU because of his own actions. Now, I’m not going to hold all this against Thompson the rest of his life by any means, but his mistake was supremely bigger, in my opinion. I think he would admit that, too.

Ben: One made a mistake in a football game. One allegedly threatened to shoot up the University and has a track record of making females feel unsafe. Really?

“How can I mentally prepare myself for what will undoubtedly be another soul crushing defeat?” – David

Nathanael: Oof, David, I feel you on that one. I’ve conditioned myself to never believe UT is going to win in The Swamp until I see it happen again. I was 10 the last time the Vols won in Gainesville. I’m 26 now. I had hope in 2015 when I was freshly graduated from UT and was watching that game with a group of friends, but after that ending, I’ve pretty much given up on seeing Tennessee win in The Swamp.

The best way to prepare is to have your favorite beverage of choice on hand and to be around loved ones to soothe the pain.

Ben: I don’t have any answers to that one, my friend. What’s unfortunate is that Tennessee has a legitimate chance to win if everything breaks its way, which means everyone’s hopes will be up on Saturday morning. I guess the way to avoid another soul crushing defeat would be to continue to convince yourself they’re going to lose.

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