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3 keys to Tennessee-Florida: An uncomfortable confidence

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What does Tennessee have to do to earn a victory over the Florida Gators for the first time in nine years?

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Whoa, Nellie. For all the talk about how bad Florida is right now, we'd do well to remember that most speaking those words are likely comparing this Florida team to so many others that were really, really good. The fact is that the Gators are not nearly as good as they usually are, but it's also true that the Vols are not nearly as good as they soon hope to be. Florida may be sliding down the ladder at an alarming speed while we're climbing it, but this is a duel that is probably best characterized as a meet-in-the-middle kind of thing. It's nice as fans to feel genuinely competitive, but I keep reminding myself not to confuse the confidence that comes with being competitive again with an attitude that it's ours to lose. We can win, and it may even be that we should win. But by definition competitive games can go either way. So bring your A game, coaches, players, and fans.

If there's a sure thing, it's Tennessee's passing offense against Florida's passing defense. Nobody the Vols have played so far this season is worse at defending the pass than the Gators. Florida currently ranks 110th in the nation in that category and are giving up 287 yards per game. Tennessee's offensive strength (a relative term) is passing, so if Justin Worley can stay upright and the receivers can stay healthy and focused, this aspect of the game can be the deciding factor. And if the running game decides to break out this weekend, hey, we'll take that, too.

It's not gift-giving season yet. The major statistical category for which Florida ranks the highest is Scoring Offense. According to the reports, the Gators are 23rd in the nation in this category by virtue of scoring 40.7 points per game. What the reports don't know, though, is that 16 of those points came in overtime against Kentucky and 14 more were handed to them by a sleepy and sloppy Alabama team. (Not to mention that 65 of the other points came against Eastern Michigan.) If you remove the overtime Kentucky and Alabama freebie points, the Gators drop to 65th and 30.6 points per game. If Tennessee can put up about what it did against both Arkansas State and Georgia (the two teams closest to Florida in Scoring Defense), and if Tennessee can hold Florida to what they actually earn for themselves in regulation, Tennessee should win by about a field goal.

Prediction: Vols 34, Gators 31.

Tennessee Logo Florida Logo Comps Result against Comps Guess
Closest Lower Closest Higher Closest Lower Closest Higher
Team Team Team Team
Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value Rank Value
Tennessee rushing offense vs. Florida rushing defense 97 126.8 45 128 Arkansas St. Georgia Arkansas St. Georgia 150
54 136.3 25 107 168 117
Tennessee passing offense vs. Florida passing defense 54 251.3 110 287.7 None Utah St. Utah St. 300
88 256.5 273
Tennessee rushing defense vs. Florida rushing offense 78 169 40 201 Arkansas St. Oklahoma Arkansas St. Oklahoma 150
73 160.8 33 222.8 141 146
Tennessee passing defense vs. Florida passing offense 28 197.3 49 261.3 Arkansas St. Oklahoma Arkansas St. Oklahoma 260
76 220 40 272.3 190 308
Tennessee scoring offense vs. Florida scoring defense 74 28.5 58 24 Arkansas St. Georgia Arkansas St. Georgia 34
62 24.8 50 22.8 34 32
Tennessee scoring defense vs. Florida scoring offense 57 23.8 23 40.7 Arkansas St./Utah St. Oklahoma/Georgia Arkansas St./Utah St. Oklahoma/Georgia 31
92/92 24.3/24.3 9/8 44.8/45.3 19/7 34/35