Tonight, the Florida Gators face the Tennessee Volunteers in a primetime showdown in the Swamp.
This time, the Gators look to bounce back from a narrow defeat by the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide. Though Tennessee is not the Tennessee of Old, we still expect this to be an absolute raucous environment for the hometown team in Gainesville.
On top of the SEC East matchup, this game holds an additional special significance. Our very own lead wither and In All Kinds of Weather founder Neil Shulman, alongside the Gator Good Foundation will be hosting Military Veteran, Ontario Jones, who has a chronic eye disease that will eventually take away his eyesight. One of his dreams was to see a Gator game in person, and that is exactly what the Gator Good Foundation will provide. Tonight, Ontario Jones will see his first Gator Game in person, with the help of this awesome organization.
Much has been made of what used to be the premier rivalry in the SEC, however, the reality is the Florida Gators have been on a tear against the Volunteers, winning 15 of the last 16 matchups, including an 8 game home winning streak that dates back to 2005.
Though I’m sure the Tennessee fanbase would like to think it is, I’m going to volunteer some advice (pun intended) — this is not a rivalry. At least it’s not anymore a rivalry to Florida than Kentucky or South Carolina are. Yes, Tennessee is a conference opponent and a “must-win” every year, but that’s it.
Now that we got the rivalry “question” out of the way, let’s get into the key storylines of this matchup. My biggest takeaway from Tennessee’s Offense, led by former UCF head coach Josh Heupel, is their tempo. In fact, Tennessee leads the nation at 3.08 plays per minute. This could present an issue for Florida’s defense which predicates itself on pre-snap communication and alignments, however, the other side to this tempo is if Florida’s defense can capitalize and keep forcing punts, the Gators can really dominate the time of possession battle. In fact, in Tennessee’s recent loss to Pittsburgh, Tennessee trailed in time of possession by a whopping 12 minutes and 10 seconds!
The key matchup is going to be the Florida Gators offensive line vs. the Tennessee Volunteers defensive line. Tennessee is fifth in the nation at stopping the run, holding opponents to an average of 1.7 yards per rush and 54.3 yards per game. On the other hand, Florida is second in the nation in yards per rush at 7.6 YPR, and second in the nation in yards per game at 336 YPG. Something has to give.
Last week, the Florida offensive line dominated an Alabama front seven which was touted preseason as the best in the nation. Will Florida’s offensive line dominate once again, especially in the run game? I think so. If you look deeper, the three teams that Tennessee played are each pretty abysmal overall in the run game. Even Pittsburg, a team that beat the Volunteers, is only rushing for 3.7 yards per attempt. That is less than half the production that Florida is getting per run.
I expect Florida to dominate once again in the run game, and for this Gator offensive line to play a huge part. And the success in the run game will be especially helped by the possible return of Anthony Richardson at Quarterback.
Players to Watch
Anthony Richardson, QB – I was honestly a little conflicted on this one. I almost selected Dameon Pierce as the player to watch, with some crucial runs against Alabama, and a team-high 5 touchdowns, it’s hard not to go with him. However, in true “player to watch” fashion, we have to go with Anthony Richardson. With continued uncertainty surrounding if he will play, and to what degree he will be able to impact the game due to still nursing a hamstring injury that has been lingering since the end of the South Florida game, he will definitely be a player everyone will be looking out for.
If he does play and can produce to even close to the level he produced in the first two games of the season, then it’s game over. Anthony Richardson leads the team in yards per run at 25.0 YPR, and rushing yards at 275. He also leads the team in QB rating with a 261.2 QBR. – We will definitely be looking for AR15 to have an instant impact if he can play.
Mohamoud Diabate, LB – In this second game of SEC play, and against a team the is predicated on tempo and playing fast, mental toughness and communication will be critical. I look to see Diabate lead this defense to hold this Tennessee offensive attack.
Fun fact: though Zach Carter and Kaiir Elam have garnered much of the hype, Diabate leads the team in total tackles at 18. Not a bad way to announce yourself to NFL Draft scouts after the injury of Ventrell Miller.
What Must Happen for the Florida Gators to Win
According to the ESPN FPI, Florida has an 88.6% chance to win the game. To boot, the Gators are 19 point favorites. I’m not sure if enough can be said in terms of how hostile an environment The Swamp is, other than that the atmosphere forced Alabama to commit five pre-snap penalties last week and made Nick Saban burn a timeout to avoid a sixth. So with that said, I know the home faithful will definitely provide ample problems for Tennessee.
The key for Florida to not only win but cement themselves as one of the dominant teams in the nation is to eliminate costly mistakes. Florida has to finally win the turnover battle. While I think the Gators can win the game even if they lose the turnover battle (again), I think it will bode much better for them moving forward if they can finally get over the hump in this facet of the game.
What Must Happen for the Tennessee Volunteers to Win
For Tennessee to win, they would have to not only expose the Florida defense with tempo, but they would also need to force turnovers. Pretty cut and dried.
It would also help Tennessee if the lingering hamstring issue prevents Anthony Richardson from playing. He is worth at least 7 points in my book, and thus exactly why for the second week in a row, a player that may not even play in the game is my player to watch. With that said, there is a reason Tennessee is a 19 point underdog. This will be a night game in the swamp, one of the most hostile environments in college football. A path for a Tennessee victory will be very slim.
The Florida Gators look to dominate rushing the ball for the fourth straight game this season. I expect Florida to have their way offensively against the Tennessee Volunteers. I also expect a good game through the air for the Gators. The one question that remains is will Florida be able to prevent the slow starts on defense?
Um… yes. To all the above. I think the Gators will be ready to roll.
Score Prediction: 45-17 Florida