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For One Florida-Tennessee Streak to Break, Another Must Fall As Well

Rushing success has generally defined team success in the past two decades of the Florida-Tennessee series.
Rushing success has generally defined team success in the past two decades of the Florida-Tennessee series.

Everyone seems to be talking about how Tennessee is looking to snap its seven-game losing streak to Florida this weekend. That makes perfect sense, given that it's UF's longest winning streak ever in the series.

If that one is going to fall, however, another streak almost certainly will have to fall as well. In the UT-UF series, 20 of the past 22 winners have been the team with the most rushing yards at the end of the game. The two exceptions were Gator wins in 2000 and 2002.

I don't feel controversial when I say that Florida will almost certainly finish this weekend's game with more rushing yards. The Gators' offense is built around running the ball with Mike Gillislee and seemingly a half dozen other backs, and Jeff Driskel got the nod at quarterback because of his ability to get on the move.

Tennessee's rushing game, meanwhile, needed only one game to get shaken up, and the game against Georgia State told us nothing because it was against Georgia State. With Tyler Bray slinging the ball around and Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson going long to catch it, there's no reason for the Vols to try to win by pounding the rock anyway. Plus, Florida did quite well against the run last week once it knew what Texas A&M was doing, and the Aggies have a better line and better backs than UT does. Purely from a strategic standpoint, ignoring all else, the Gators are a good bet to finish with more rushing yards.

Now, Rule No. 1 from Football Outsiders is, "You run when you win, not win when you run". There is nothing particularly magical about running instead of passing; both approaches have their plusses and minuses, and there's a reason why every system from the flexbone to the Air Raid does both. This game might even be the best kind of proof for the maxim, given that Tennessee's best case scenario involves the Vols outrushing the Gators. If Patterson rips off another couple of long runs and Tennessee spends a significant chunk of the second half bleeding clock with Rajion Neal, then UT will probably outrush Florida after all.

Still though, this 20-of-22 stat is one that Florida and Tennessee fans have probably grown sick of hearing over the years, and it's definitely one that you'll hear about from the announcers several times during the game on Saturday. It's become a part of the series' mythos, and past coaches have believed it to be a defining characteristic of the series. If the current guys do too, then the real balance of correlation versus causation doesn't matter so much because the play callers will make decisions based on the idea that it's more causation.

In that case, Florida would benefit more, but we'll just have to see on Saturday. If Derek Dooley begins the game with a steady diet of Neal and Marlin Lane, then we'll have our answer.