Opponent Preview: No. 9 Florida Gators

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    (Photo via Tim Casey/UAA Communications)

    2019 Record: 3-0 overall (1-0, SEC)

    Head Coach: Dan Mullen (2nd year, 12-3 overall)
    Location: Gainesville, Florida

    Leading Passer: Feleipe Franks (RS-Jr.) — 54-of-71, 698 yards 5 TDs, 3 INTs
    Leading Rusher: Lamical Perine (Sr.) — 34 carries, 120 yards, 2 TDs
    Leading Receiver: Van Jefferson (RS-Sr.) — 12 receptions, 201 yards, TD
    Leading Tackler: David Reese II (Sr.) — 23 tackles (14 solo), 0.5 TFL, 0.5 sack

    Total Offense Rank: 59th (428.3)
    Passing Offense Rank:
    30th (288.7)
    Rushing Offense Rank: 91st (139.67)
    Scoring Offense Rank: 56th (32.7)

    Total Defense Rank: 33rd (300.7)
    Passing Defense Rank: 59th (207.0)
    Rushing Defense Rank: 30th (93.67)
    Scoring Defense Rank: 19th (13.7)

    Florida is coming off a gutsy fourth quarter comeback win over Kentucky on the road. The Gators faced adversity when Feleipe Franks dislocated his ankle midway through the third quarter, but Kyle Trask entered the game and elevated the Gators’ offense, leading them to a 29-21 win over the Wildcats. Florida now sits at 3-0 on the season after picking up a win over Kentucky in its SEC opener.

    Dan Mullen’s team opened up the season with a 24-20 win over Miami. Florida sacked the Hurricanes 10 times in its first win of the season.

    Sandwiched in between the Miami and Kentucky games, the Gators throttled Tennessee-Martin 45-0. Franks was near perfect, completing 25 of his 27 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns. The Gators were 9-of-13 on third down and amassed over 500 yards of offense in that game.

    Here’s a complete preview of Tennessee’s opponent this Saturday, the No. 9 Florida Gators.

    Offense

    Saturday’s success for the Gators on offense will likely begin and end with how well Kyle Trask adjusts to being the starting quarterback. Trask hasn’t started a single game at quarterback since his freshman year of high school. He responded well coming in for Franks in Lexington, but his inexperience could play a factor early on in Saturday’s game.

    Trask appeared in four games last season before his season was ended early due to a foot injury. The redshirt junior was 14-of-22 for 145 yards and a touchdown. Against Kentucky last weekend, Trask was 9-of-13 for 126 yards.

    One of the key factors to Trask playing well will be Florida’s offensive line keeping him clean. The group of big uglies are rebuilding after losing four starters who combined for 141 career starts from a season ago.

    The Gators’ rebuilt offensive line consists of redshirt junior Stone Forsythe at left tackle, redshirt junior Brett Heggie at left guard, redshirt senior Nick Buchanan at center, redshirt freshman Chris Bleich at right guard, and redshirt junior Jean Delance at right tackle.

    Through three games, Florida’s offensive line has allowed just three sacks, which is tied for second-fewest in the SEC. While the group has been good in pass protection, they’ve struggled in the run game. UF has rushed for just 419 yards through three games, which is the third-fewest in the conference.

    Lamical Perine leads a Florida rushing attack that averages just 4.51 yards per carry. Perine has rushed for 120 yards on the season. He’s scored just one touchdown and is averaging 3.53 yards per carry himself. Perine has only surpassed 50 rushing yards once, which came against UT-Martin when he rushed for 51. Against Miami, he rushed for 42 yards, and he rushed for 27 yards against Kentucky.

    Redshirt sophomore Malik Davis and sophomore Dameon Pierce back up Perine in the backfield. Pierce has rushed for 35 yards on 10 carries, while Davis has nine rushing yards on six carries. Redshirt freshman Iverson Clement actually has more rushing yards (41) than Davis and Pierce, but it all came on one rush.

    Florida’s offensive line and rushing attack will be key to helping Trask settle in during his first career start, but the biggest tool at his disposal is Florida’s group of wide receivers. Despite speedy Kadarius Toney being out due to injury, Florida’s wideouts are still one of the best group of receivers in the SEC from top-to-bottom.

    Van Jefferson is Florida’s leading receiver. The Ole Miss transfer leads the team with 12 catches for 201 yards and a touchdown. Josh Hammond and Trevon Grimes are also over 100 receiving yards on the season, helping to form a dangerous trio. But it doesn’t stop with those three; Freddie Swain, Tyrie Cleveland, and Jacob Copeland are all capable of burning the Vols on Saturday. In fact, Tennessee is well aware of Cleveland after its last trip to Gainesville.

    At tight end, sophomore Kyle Pitts leads the way, though redshirt junior Lucas Krull plays a key role. Pitts has nine catches for 99 yards on the season. While Krull has yet to catch a pass, he plays a key role in the running game.

    Defense

    Defensively, the Gators are led by a dominating front seven, though they enter Saturday’s game banged up. Jabari Zuniga and Jon Greenard are questionable for the game with injuries. The duo combine to form a nightmare tandem of pass-rushers. Greenard already has 2.5 sacks on the season, while Zuniga leads the team with three.

    Jeremiah Moon, Marlon Dunlap, Luke Ancrum, Zachary Carter, and Tedarrell Slaton help round out a terrific defensive front seven. Moon leads the Gators with four tackles for a loss.

    It’s not just Greenard, Zuniga, and Moon who make the front seven special, however. Kyree Campbell at nose and Adam Shuler at tackle help form a nasty defensive front. Campbell already has three tackles for a loss on the season. Shuler doesn’t have eye-popping stats, but he makes things happen that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

    Zuniga and Greenard are the scariest members of the defense, but David Reese II is the heart and soul of Todd Grantham’s group.

    Reese leads the team with 23 tackles, 14 of which are solo stops. Reese will be flanked by redshirt sophomore Ventrell Miller, who is second on the team in tackles with 15. Miller also has two sacks through three games.

    James Houston, Amari Burney, and Lacedrick Brunson play key roles in backup for Reese and Miller.

    Junior Shawn Davis leads a banged up Florida secondary. Davis has burst onto the scene this season through the first couple games. The Miami native had just 22 tackles last season, but in three games this year, he already has 12. He’s also tied for the team lead with two interceptions.

    With talented corner CJ Henderson doubtful for the game against the Vols because of an ankle injury, multiple freshmen are cemented in key roles for the Gators secondary — particularly at corner.

    Marco Wilson is a very talented corner who plays opposite of Henderson. He’ll be on the field this weekend, but he hasn’t been himself lately as he works back from an injury. As a result, freshmen Jaydon Hill, Kaiir Elam, and Chester Kimbrough are responsible for making up for the loss of Henderson while Wilson knocks off the rust.

    With Davis locking down one safety spot, Jeawon Taylor and Brad Stewart will fill the other safety position while Donovan Stiner is suspended for the first half against Tennessee. Stiner was ejected for targeting against Kentucky. Taylor and Stiner each have seven tackles on the season, and Stewart has two.

    Special Teams

    Tennessee’s special teams unit is very good, but so is Florida’s.

    Evan McPherson, the Gators’ sophomore kicker, is just 3-for-4 on the season with a long of 32 yards. McPherson has kicked off 18 times on the season, and 14 of them have gone for touchbacks.

    Former Tennessee punter Tommy Townsend serves as Florida’s starting punter and is one of the best in the league. Townsend has punted five times this season and is averaging 45.6 yards per punt. His longest punt went for 50 yards.

    Freddie Swain serves as the Gators’ kick returner as well as their punt returner. Despite not yet having an opportunity to break off a big return, the senior has the potential to break the game open in the return game at a moment’s notice.



    Ben McKee
    Ben McKee is a graduate from the University of Tennessee and has a degree in Journalism and Electronic Media. He grew up an Army brat and lived in Alabama for a bit, but he bleeds orange. He covers Tennessee football, basketball, baseball, and the Lady Vols for RTI, and he's also a co-host on the RTI Live Show and RTI Podcast. You can also hear Ben on the morning sports radio show "The Swain Event." He's the producer and co-host along with former Vol wide receiver Jayson Swain.