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Tennessee Volunteers v. Florida Gators: game preview

There are essentially three keys for home-dog Tennessee this Saturday against the Gators:

  • Control the A and B gaps on both offense and defense.
  • Win on third down defense.
  • New standard for punters: forget on-time, high, and deep. Go with early and out-of-bounds.

First, the pertinent stats:

Tennessee rush
Florida defense
Tennessee pass
Florida defense
Florida rush
Tennessee defense
Florida pass
Tennessee defense
Florida logo
Florida logo
Tennessee logo
Tennessee logo


Field Goals
Tennessee punting
Florida punt return
Florida punting
Tennessee punt return
Florida logo
Florida logo
Tennessee logo

Strength of schedule metrics:

Tennessee logo
Florida logo
at UCLA  0-1 L 27-24
UAB  0-2 W 35-3
Hawaii  1-1 W 56-10
Miami (FL)  1-0 W 26-3

Can somebody explain the NCAA's strength of schedule pdf to me? Maybe it's just a mistake, but they have Tennessee's past opposition strength of schedule calculated as, well, zero, based on prior opponent's non-Tennessee games record of no wins and three losses. As much as that pains me, that appears to be correct, but they have Florida's calculated as zero as well, listing their prior opponent's non-Florida games record of zero wins and one loss. That has to be a data entry error, don't you think?

Here's how the teams look next to each other in each of the key statistical categories currently used in the RTT Ready, Fire, Aim BlogPoll Computer Ballot:

Florida 1 99 4 13 19 3 34 116 6 62 15 33.82 191.09
Tennessee 65 99 12 20 61 30 96 116 27 23 68 56.09 450.36

It appears that Florida should have been ranked even higher than they were this week by the computer based on that wacky SOS data discussed above. Correcting for that puts them at third rather than 17th. Sigh.

So what's it all mean?

The bulk of the struggle in this game is going to focus on the A and B gaps in both lines. Those are the holes on either side of the center on the offensive line. As we've been saying all week (and for years), Tennessee's best chance against the Gators is to run the ball. If successful, they can then use the play-action pass, but if they aren't successful at running the ball, they'll give Florida another chance to run up the score because they won't be able to control possession on offense. The only possibly viable alternative to establishing the run and sticking with it is to use a short-yardage passing game. Despite all of that, the Vols will need to take a shot down the field once in awhile at opportune times to keep the defense honest. If they can hit one or two of those, it will help the running game a great deal and get us on the road to a possible upset. If not (and see the No. 54 Tennessee pass rank against the No. 4 Florida pass efficiency defense rank), it will just be viewed as an empty threat and will make matters worse. Tennessee's running game is good (or it appears to be good -- see the strength of schedule), but Florida's rush defense appears to actually have the edge. Still, it's our only hope Obi-Wan.

Really surprising to me here is that the numbers indicate a possible advantage for the Vols on defense. The knee-jerk skepticism is somewhat quelled by the fact that although UAB's defense was really bad, its offense really isn't. When we're on defense, look for two things: watch the A and B gaps, and watch our defense's ability to stop Florida on third down (Note Florida's third down offense rank of 19 against Tennessee's third down defense rank of 68.). Can Demonte' Bolden, Dan Williams, Walter Fisher, and Donald Langley dictate matters in Florida's backfield like Miami did? Will Chavis play the linebackers up at the line in different gaps at different times to give Tebow and the o-line and the blockers and options more to process and to disrupt the play at the outset? Will that increase the odds that any of Tebow's passes might be off target and result in interceptions from our ball-hawking secondary? It's possible. Defense is that one area where the home crowd can really help the team. It's been a long time since Tennessee's fielded an intimidating, dominating defense, and the early returns this year are encouraging. Al Wilson will be in attendance to be honored as the Tennessee Legend of the game, and it is probably safe to assume that coach Fulmer will have him address the team to get them fired up. If Vol fans see glimpses of the Tennessee defense of yore, they'll go nuts.

The real danger comes on special teams, specifically Tennessee's punting game. With Florida's Brandon James fielding punts, Tennessee's fourth-down territory should be expanded. If a punt is definitely called for, Chad Cunningham does not need to be a Colquitt, he just needs to be a mere pawn in the scheme, helping his team take one small step in the right direction. He does not need to get the punt out on time, high, and deep. He needs to get it out early and out of bounds. A thirty-eight yard gross average is not the standard here. Avoiding a special teams touchdown for the other team is the only goal. A ten-yard punt that is not returned may be the best play of the night that we'll never acknowledge simply because it precluded something bad from happening.