Managing editor Nathanael Rutherford and staff writer Ben McKee will “buy or sell” the likelihood of several things happening each week before a Tennessee football game. Here are their takes on the Vols’ match-up with their SEC East rival, the No. 9 Florida Gators.
Buy or Sell: The Vols will run for more yards than Florida.
Nathanael: I’m selling this one quick, fast, and in a hurry. Yes, Tennessee’s rushing attack has looked better the last two weeks after a brutal start against Georgia State. And yes, Florida themselves have had a ton of issues running the ball on offense. But the Vols haven’t faced a front seven like Florida’s yet, and the Gators’ front seven is superb. Florida is giving up an average of less than 100 rushing yards a game this season, and while Kentucky eclipsed the 100-yard mark as a team against them last week, they only averaged 3.4 yards per carry while doing so. Add to all of that the fact that UT’s defensive line has been mediocre at best this season, and I’d be shocked if UT wins the rushing battle.
Ben: I’m selling. Florida has struggled to run the ball to begin the season as four new starters take over along the offensive line, replacing 141 combined starts from a season ago. Gators’ starting running back Lamical Perine has gotten off to a slow start, only rushing for more than 50 yards once this season — and those 51 rushing yards came against Tennessee-Martin.
What will be different this week for the Gators is that they are going up against a Tennessee defensive front that lacks play-makers up front. The Vols’ rushing attack doesn’t have the same luxury of running against a weak front seven. Instead, they must rush into one of the best front sevens in the country.
Buy or Sell: Tennessee will win the turnover battle on Saturday.
Nathanael: Nope, selling this one too. If Feleipe Franks was still the Gators’ starting quarterback, I’d be much more tempted to buy this one. But Kyle Trask doesn’t seem to be quite as careless with the football as Franks, and the Vols have been downright awful at forcing turnovers. Against FBS opponents, Tennessee has one takeaway in two games. Maybe their five takeaways and that blocked punt against UTC will spark the defense and help them find their turnover mojo, but I’m doubtful. I do think the offense will do a decent job of keeping the ball secure, but Jarrett Guarantano’s play to begin the year worries me in that regard.
Ben: Sell. I believe Tennessee’s offense will do a fairly good job of taking care of the football, but I don’t believe the defense will force many turnovers to win the turnover battle. Aside from the BYU game, Jarrett Guarantano has done a good job of taking care of the football the past two weeks. With a heavy emphasis from the coaches and Guarantano, they’ll take care of the football in Gainesville.
But I’m not putting much stock in the five turnovers the defense forced against UTC. It’s Tennessee-Chattanooga, an FCS opponent. In the two games against FBS opponents this year, they’ve forced a single turnover. That’s not a great sign headed into a hostile environment against the best team they will have played this year.
Buy or Sell: Florida will get at least three sacks.
Nathanael: While I think Jarrett Guarantano will be harassed quite a bit in this game, I hesitate to buy this one. Last year, Guarantano was beaten up by the Gators, but they actually didn’t rack up a ton of sacks. They only finished the game totaling one sack, though Guarantano definitely took upwards of over half a dozen brutal hits in that one. I’ll still buy this because UT will likely have three offensive linemen making their first career road start, and that’s not a good match-up for an elite Florida front seven.
Ben: I’ll buy. Tennessee’s offensive line has gotten better each week, especially in the run game. A lot is still left to be desired in terms of pass protection, however. Florida’s defensive front is elite and the best the Vols will have faced this season. Oh, and Tennessee is starting two true freshmen and a redshirt sophomore with very little playing experience.
Buy or Sell: Bryce Thompson plays in the game.
Nathanael: Definitely buying. I don’t know how much he plays, but I don’t see UT taking him on their travel roster just to take up space on the sideline. He’ll play, but I don’t know how much he’ll be on the field.
Ben: I’m buying. Bryce Thompson has practiced all week, and Jeremy Pruitt said on Wednesday that he would be traveling down to Gainesville. Why would he take up a spot on the travel roster if he wasn’t going to play?
Buy or Sell: Florida plays two quarterbacks during the game.
Nathanael: I’ll buy. I wondered earlier in the week if maybe Dan Mullen was doing a little bit of gamesmanship by talking about playing both Trask and Emory Jones, but as the week has gone on, I believe more and more that both will definitely see the field. I wonder how rotating quarterbacks will affect a Gator offense that has already had issues this season. Either it’ll be the cure the offense needed or it’ll further stagnate UF’s ability to put points on the board.
Ben: Buy. Dan Mullen has talked all week about running a two quarterback system following the season-ending ankle injury to Feleipe Franks during the Kentucky game. Mullen will have a couple of designed run calls up his sleeve for Emory Jones, but Kyle Trask will play the majority of the snaps — especially following how he performed in Lexington after Franks’ injury. Still, both quarterbacks will play.
Buy or Sell: Tennessee covers the spread (-14) against Florida.
Nathanael: I’m buying this one. I’m not ready — far from it — to pick Tennessee to pull off the upset in The Swamp, but there’s enough on paper to make me think UT can at least keep this game closer than Vegas is expecting. To me, Florida isn’t a top 10 team despite their No. 9 ranking, and I think Tennessee has some advantages in some areas.
Unfortunately for the Vols, they also have plenty of disadvantages across the board, and Florida is definitely the better team. Still, with the game kicking off at noon, Jarrett Guarantano’s propensity to play better on the road, Daniel Bituli getting healthier, and the potential (and probable) return of Bryce Thompson, I think Tennessee can keep the final margin under 14 points.
Ben: I don’t think Tennessee wins the football game, but I do believe they’ll at least be able to cover the spread. Florida is the better team from top-to-bottom, but the Gators do have weaknesses. They may have a No. 9 next to their name, but I can promise you they’re not the ninth-best team in the country.
Florida has a couple of weaknesses the Vols have the potential to take advantage of it. It starts with a thin and inexperienced Gators secondary that is going up against a talented and deep group of Tennessee receivers. If the O-line can provide Guarantano with time to get the ball down the field, and assuming Guarantano has a good game, Jauan Jennings, Marquez Callaway, and Josh Palmer could make some game-changing plays.
Defensively, Tennessee’s front seven has to find a way to take advantage of a weak Florida offensive line. If the Vols can do that, along with generating some plays in the passing game, they’ve got a chance to pull off the upset.