I’ll admit it. For the second year in a row, I’m a little nervous about this game. Florida has beaten 10essee the number of times preceding “essee” in a row, but the Vols are feeling confident coming into this game in the Swamp. Then again, the Vols were also feeling confident heading into the Oklahoma game, which they led the whole way and blew in the end…
Anyway, onto the predictions:
1) Will Grier will be responsible for at least two turnovers. Paper says he shouldn’t be against a shoddy Volunteer defense, but he’s still a young quarterback and mistakes do happen, particularly in your first big game. And Florida’s offensive line still has a lot of work to do, which could also contribute.
2) Josh Dobbs will have a big first half. Containing Dobbs is not an easy task, and the Gators’ defense, while extremely talented, will have a difficult time adjusting to the dual threat QB component of Tennessee’s offense. I do expect the Gator defense to eventually adjust and stop him later on, but not before he has some initial success both running and throwing the ball.
3) Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd will rush for no more than 100 total yards. Florida’s defense has been rock solid against the run so far, and Saturday should be no different. Tennessee’s offensive line, like Florida’s, is still a question mark, and I’m confident in the Gators’ ability to shut the Vols’ ground game down.
4) Florida will win special teams. It’s something different every year that makes the difference, but the Gators always win the special teams battle against the Volunteers, so why believe they won’t again? Whether it’s a blocked kick, a big return, a big day by punter Johnny Townsend, a perfectly executed fake, or Tennessee just completely melts down, I have the distinct feeling that Florida will dominate the unit typically listed third in the hierarchy of “offense, defense and special teams.”
5) Tennessee will turn the ball over at least twice. Because they always do against Florida. And, you know, because Florida has a ball hawking secondary led by Vernon Hargreaves and a tenacious front seven that’s capable of forcing mistakes from even the best quarterback in the country.
6) Florida will finish with at least 400 yards of offense. It’s not a good defense to begin with, and if the offensive line can hold up in protection, the offense should be able to have a pretty big day. After all, the Vols surrendered 557 yards to Bowling Green. And that game was with star linebacker Curt Maggitt, who has since injured his hip and is out for several weeks. The only way the Gators don’t put up big numbers on offense is if they self destruct.
7) Will Grier will throw for at least two touchdowns. Again, the Volunteers are very weak defensively, and while Grier figures to struggle at times, he also figures to light them up when he’s not. Tennessee’s secondary can bust a coverage at any given time, and Grier is good enough to immediately recognize when they do and make them pay for it.
8) Tennessee will lead at halftime. Despite everything I’ve said so far, I do think the Vols get off to a strong start, particularly on offense. Their desperation to beat Florida will show early, as they pull out all the stops, take an early lead and hold onto it through the first half.
9) Florida will score at least 20 points in the second half. I just don’t see why the Volunteers’ defense, while certainly hungry, is capable of stopping the Gators for a full 60 minutes. Or anybody for that matter. Down at halftime, Grier rallies the Gators to a big second half filled with long drives, explosive plays and lots of points.
10) Florida’s defense will end the game with a stop. To use a baseball analogy: Florida’s offense will win the game with the aforementioned second half performance, but the defense will save it. Down but not out, Dobbs will lead the Vols on a last ditch drive with time running out, and Geoff Collins’ defense rises up when it’s needed most and clinches the win.
Projection: Florida 27, Tennessee 23