Tennessee opens SEC play Saturday afternoon and the opponent couldn’t be bigger. The Vols host SEC east rival Florida as 10.5-point favorites with the eyes of the college football world on Knoxville.
Each week, the RTI team will provide game predictions for Tennessee’s weekly opponent.
We move on to Florida.
Not sure where to begin the prediction with this one, but let’s start with Cedric Tillman’s injury. Obviously, whether he is able to go or not is going to have a big impact on Tennessee’s team. While I do have some sense of relief after quality showings from both Jalin Hyatt and Bru McCoy, potentially not having Tillman is a difference-maker. I think that is seen the most with Tennessee’s third and fourth receivers in rotation on Saturday. Tennessee needs to be able to establish a run game early on in order to bring down some of the Florida secondary. We know that Florida’s defensive backs are the strongest unit on the defense, so getting them out of position by making them respect the run is a good way to grasp that advantage.
On the defensive side of things, Florida’s offense is really dependent on what we see from Anthony Richardson on Saturday. If we see the same AR15 that played against Utah, that’s one thing. But if it’s more so the same quarterback that struggled against Kentucky and USF, I think that’s a totally different story. Luckily, I’m not a defensive coordinator. But I do think that Tennessee will want to force pressure on Richardson, making him uncomfortable, but not to the extent to which he can just take off with his legs… if that makes sense. Collapse the pocket with pressure and shrink it so that Richardson can’t scramble out. And if he does scramble out, watch out for the right side. Kentucky and USF did a good job of cutting off Richardson’s right-handed rollout, limiting what he was able to do as a passer.
I think that Tennessee does have the advantages in this game including coaching and the quarterback. But as we know, this isn’t any regular game. To use an old cliche that no one is fond of, “throw the record books out the window when these two teams play.” I don’t know if I see Florida scoring 30 points, but I see Tennessee managing to get above that number with their high-powered offense. So I’ll lock in something in that range.
Prediction: Tennessee 34, Florida 28
Tennessee is in an unfamiliar position entering this year’s matchup against Florida. The Vols are double-digit favorites against Florida for the first time ever as Billy Napier’s first Gators team has struggled to this point in the season.
Florida’s passing attack has been very limited to this point in the season. Is there more there for Anthony Richardson in the throwing game? Maybe, but I think Tennessee’s pass defense will hold up. Richardson has struggled making reads against zone defense. The Vols run a lot of zone and particularly a lot of zone blitzes. Can those blitzes get home like they did against Pitt? If they do will Richardson make a mistake or two? On the flip side, this is Tennessee’s first true test against a running quarterback this season. That was a major weakness a season ago. How will it look Saturday? Florida seemed unwilling to run Richardson last week due to a potential injury. Will that continue Saturday?
All eyes are on Cedric Tillman when it comes to Tennessee’s offense. If Tillman isn’t able to play, Bru McCoy and Jalin Hyatt will have plenty of opportunities. What can those two — particularly McCoy — do with more targets. Then who is on the field the most in Tillman’s spot? Ramel Keyton, Walker Merrill and Jimmy Holliday are the most logical options. Will Josh Heupel give Squirrel White an opportunity in a big game?
I’ve long been a “I’m going to need to see Tennessee beat Florida a little more consistently before I pick them” person. But I’ve never seen Tennessee be this much better than Florida in my life. Combine that with what’s poised to be a raucous crowd inside Neyland Stadium and I’m taking the Vols.
Prediction: Tennessee 35, Florida 27