Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Odds: The Gators opened as eight-point favorites, but line has dropped to (-5) according to OddsShark.
The Gators and the Vols have been meeting on the field since 1916, but did not produce a rivalry until both schools were placed in the same division after the expansion of the SEC in the 90s.
The overall record in the series is 26-20 in favor of the Gators and UF has a 20-6 record against UT since the annual rivalry began in 1991.
Last year, the Vols snapped the Gators’ 11-game winning streak in the series. An epic comeback in Neyland Stadium erased a huge deficit as the Vols scored 38 unanswered points. In the 90s, this game was almost certain to produce the SEC East Champion and the last three matchups have featured close games (2014: 10-9 Gators, 2015: 28-27 Gators, 2016: 38-28 Vols).
The Vols come in 2-0 and are ranked No. 23 after disposing of FCS opponent Indiana State last weekend and Georgia Tech on Labor Day. The #24 Gators return to the Swamp for the first time this season at 0-1 with the opening weekend loss to Michigan. Their Week 2 game against FCS Northern Colorado was cancelled.
The Gators look to avoid going 0-2 for just the first time since 1971.
#23 Tennessee Volunteers 2-0 (0-0)
Much of the Volunteers’ offensive star-power from last season are gone (Joshua Dobbs, Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd) but return some of the pieces that were able to end the streak against the Gators in Knoxville last year.
Tight end Ethan Wolfe returns as well as running back John Kelly. Kelly has racked up 200+ yards and four touchdowns in his first two games. The quarterback battle looks to almost be decided as junior Quinten Dormady played the entire Georgia Tech game. He was only relieved by freshman Jarrett Guarantano after the Indiana State game was well in hand.
Dormady can be extremely accurate and has accounted for 415 yards and four touchdowns as the starter. The emergence of deep-threat wide receiver Marquez Callaway gave the offense some explosive plays against the Yellow Jackets and the sophomore will look to add to his three touchdowns against a youthful Gator secondary.
The offensive line returns redshirt sophomore Drew Richmond after sitting out the Georgia Tech game for a violation of team rules. True freshman 5-star lineman Trey Smith has taken over the right guard position and has solidified his place as a starter. The Tennessee offensive line has only given up one sack this season while allowing the offense to be relatively balanced under new offensive coordinator and Florida native Larry Scott.
The team has yet to go over 400 yards of total offense, but is averaging 382 yards per game so far (almost 200 yards more than Florida). Look for UT to try to get Kelly going early and try to pick on the young Gator secondary. It will be difficult for the Vols to move the ball against this defense, but if the offensive line can continue to protect Dormady and Kelley finds the end zone like he did opening weekend, the Vols could take advantage of field position and try to tire the Gator defense out (which seems to be a good strategy against the Gators).
The Volunteers defense gave up an astounding 655 yards (535 rushing) to Georgia Tech’s option offense. They couldn't stop the Ramblin’ Wreck until the last play of the game. Even if “everyone” gives up a ton of rushing yards to their throwback offense, 535 yards rushing is horrible.
2&1 and we line up on the first down line!!! We will have the worst rush defense in the SEC!!! But good news is we are CHAMPIONS OF LIFE!!! pic.twitter.com/3Pha2EHope— Albert Haynesworth (@haynesworthiii) September 9, 2017
The type of offense they will see from the Gators will allow the Vols strong defensive line to use their beef and get off the ball instead of reading keys against the option. The pass rush of Jonathan Kongbo and the size of Shy Tuttle are enough to give the Gators offensive line problems, especially if the defense gets exotic with their twists, stunts and blitzes like Michigan did to the Gators.
The Vols return experience at linebacker with seniors Colton Jumper and Cortez McDowell and also saw the emergence of sophomore Daniel Bituli rack up 23 tackles against Georgia Tech. Bituli currently leads the SEC in tackles on the season with 28. The secondary returns safeties Micah Abernathy, Nigel Warrior and added former UGA graduate transfer Shag Wiggins. They will be without starting free safety Todd Kelly Jr. who is out indefinitely with a knee injury.
Depending on how competent the Gators offense is on Saturday, the Vols could take the Michigan blueprint and try to disrupt the underachieving Gator line. Consequently, they could disrupt the quarterback rhythm and offensive strategy. It is yet to be seen if Tennessee can stop the run, but the Gators’ leading rusher is Mark Thompson with 13 yards. So, this could be a completely different outing for the front seven.
#24 Florida Gators 0-1 (0-0)
The Gators struggled mightily on offense against the Michigan Wolverines in their opening game. They gained only 192 yards and picked up just nine first downs (which is just good enough for worst in the FBS in both statistics). The second game against FCS opponent Northern Colorado was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma and denied the struggling offense a chance to reevaluate against a lesser opponent.
Jim McElwain made it clear that Feleipe Franks will be the starting quarterback for the Gators against Tennessee after an up and down performance in Week 1.
Feleipe Franks is still the Gators starter at QB.— Nick de la Torre (@NickdelaTorreGC) September 13, 2017
Franks was 5-9 with 75 yards passing before he was replaced with Malik Zaire in the second half to give the team another dimension against the Michigan front seven. We could see any of the three quarterbacks this weekend and possibly have Kadarius Toney and Dre Massey line up in the Wildcat, but I expect Franks to settle in with two weeks in the rear view mirror.
The Gators will look to establish the running game early with sophomore Lamical Perine and senior Mark Thompson to set up the play action pass and deep ball that Franks is so fond of.
The real issue with the performance against Michigan and what could hamper the offense all year is the poor offensive line play. The group Coach McElwain dubbed as the “strength of the offense” over the summer failed to fire off the ball and left the coaching staff with an empty game plan. This youthful group, anchored by junior left tackle Martez Ivey, must grow up quickly and learn to work together as the SEC season begins against the Vols.
The Gators will again be without starting running back Jordan Scarlett and wide receiver Antonio Callaway as they continue to work through their indefinite suspensions. Tyrie Cleveland and Josh Hammond have played well through the team struggles and McElwain and company must get the ball to playmakers Toney and Massey. The success of Perine, Franks and the receivers will ultimately hinge on the offensive line’s ability to protect the quarterback and fire off the ball in the run game.
It has only been one game, but the Gator defense already looks very similar to the last 10 years even after losing Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie, Jarrad Davis, Alex Anzalone, Quincy Wilson, Marcus Maye and Teez Tabor to the NFL. The defensive line is deep on the ends and proven inside. Taven Bryan, Jachai Polite and Jordan Sherit all lived up to the bill and played well through three quarters against Michigan.
The young and suspension-riddled linebackers will be without Kylan Johnson who is still dealing with a hamstring injury. This propels red shirt freshman Jeremiah Moon into the linebacker rotation and will be his first major action alongside sophomores David Reese and Vosean Joseph.
Injuries: Deandre Goolsby practiced on Tues. Kylan Johnson likely out with his leg. Kemore Gamble is back.— Andrew Spivey (@AndrewSpiveyGC) September 13, 2017
The secondary saw significant play out of freshmen Shawn Davis, Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson and these youngsters will be tested against Callaway, Jennings and Wolfe in the Vols passing game.
There were signs of growing pains with a busted coverage or two, but that is to be expected with so many freshmen in the secondary week one. I expect the freshmen to continue to learn the defense and get better while Chauncey Gardner, Duke Dawson and Nick Washington provide experience on the back end.
The 2-0 Vols will come in confident while the Gators still aren’t sure what they have on offense. I don’t think it is outrageous to assume that Florida has the more talented athletes, but the Michigan debacle and the second half in Knoxville last year show that it doesn’t really matter if the offensive game plan doesn’t fit the personnel and the coaches fail to adapt.
The best case scenario for the Gators would be for the offensive line to prove that the Michigan game was an anomaly. Even an average performance from this group would allow the offense to stay on the field, the defense to stay off the field and the coaching staff to follow their game plan.
We should know very early in the game if that is the case because the worst case would be another Michigan performance; 3-and-outs and quarterback roulette. The play makers in the backfield and on the perimeter cannot get space or catch the ball if the offensive line isn't consistent. The Gator defensive front can give Dormady fits and if the offense can give them a break, they can keep that intensity in the fourth quarter of a close game.
A best case scenario for Tennessee would be for Tuttle and Kongbo to disrupt Franks and the line causing the offense to sputter. The recipe for beating the McElwain-led Gators (as perfected by Saban, Fisher and Harbaugh) is to dominate the line, fluster the quarterback and keep the Gator defense on the field with methodical playcalling.
If Butch Jones and Larry Scott can attack the right spots in the Gator defense and Bob Shoop’s defense give the Gators trouble in the pocket, the Vols will be just fine following the Harbaugh playbook.
Call me crazy, but I still have faith in the Gators offense. The deficiencies and poor play can now be narrowed to the offensive line. With two weeks of preparation and having been called out by their coaches and the media, the big-uglies should rise to the challenge.
They will face a much less talented front than their last opponent and saw Georgia Tech roll up 500+ yards on the ground against the Vols. The Tennessee defense can be exploited both on the ground and through the air and I expect the Gators will have a better time following Doug Nussmeier’s gameplan this go around.
The Volunteers will rack up some yards through the air, but the Gators talented pass rush will be too much in the end. Gator kicker Eddy Piniero will make some field goals and the special teams will give Franks good field position. The Gators will look competent on offense allowing the defense hold Tennessee in check in the second half.
Gators 29, Vols 21