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Tennessee Vols at Florida Gators: stalemates, hidden yards, and turnovers

We attempt to predict what might happen this Saturday in the Swamp.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

So far this week, we've recalibrated expectations both for the Vols and for this game in particular. We've looked at the things that Tennessee is doing well so far this week and wondered if it can continue. We've wondered if the Vols' passing game can be successful against the Gators, flirted with the Cliffs of Insanity and come back to our senses. We've talked it all over with Gators fan Spencer Hall and identified the most important players for this game. Today, we look at the respective NCAA official stats of each team, see how they stack up against each other, and try to make some predictions about what the Vols can do to win and whether they will. So here are my keys to the game based on all of that.

Don't be alarmed if the Vols' offense struggles. Florida's defense is the best that Tennessee's played this year. Its passing defense may be only slightly better than Oklahoma's, but the Gator's rushing defense appears to be elite, holding opponents to just over 55 yards per game. Of the Vols' former opponents, Oklahoma's run defense is closest, but they're giving up nearly 150 on the ground per game. Yes, the run game is the strength of the Tennessee offense, but if it looks like it's stuck in the mud like it did against Oklahoma in the second half, don't freak out. Good defenses will do that.

Bottle up the Gators offense. The good news is that we're likely going to do the same thing to them. Just looking at the national rudimentary offensive stat rankings, Oklahoma appears to be slightly better at running the ball, and both Oklahoma and Bowling Green appear to be much, much, much better at passing. I think we'll be able to keep the Gators' offense at bay without doing anything crazy. Just play sound on defense, and the Vols should have success defensively.

Just keep pushing. So my best guess is that both defenses are going to make things difficult for both offenses, but something Spencer Hall said on our podcast last night is encouraging. He doesn't believe that Florida's offense has any answers to Tennessee's d-line, and although Florida's d-line is going to give the Vols' offense fits, at least they have something to work with. We do have Jalen Hurd and AAAALVINNNNN! Kamara to run the ball. We do have Josh Dobbs to hopefully make a few somethings out of nothings. We do have receivers somewhere deep in our pockets, although we seem to have temporarily misplaced them. We have things we can try when the going gets tough. So just keep pushing buttons and see if you can make something work.

Hidden yards. But this is the thing that I think may be the Vols' biggest advantage, if they have one. The Vols are doing some things extremely well over the course of three games. They're protecting the ball, winning turnover battles, and winning the field position battle through excellent punting, kick and punt returns, and kick return defense. One of the things that was so infuriating about losing to the Gators in the past was keeping up with them in the major stats and losing due to giving up a special teams touchdown or a fumble or interception at just the wrong time. If the team can only continue doing well in those things, that may be the advantage that brings home a win. But they need to capitalize. Play for and make the breaks, and when one comes your way -- score.

All of that said, I've been wrong about this game more often than not, and usually because something inexplicable happens. So I'll be expecting both offenses to struggle and hoping that both teams spend most of their time on Florida's side of the field so that when a mistake happens, the Vols can turn it into points. Until I see it, though, I'm reluctantly picking the Gators:

Florida 20, Vols 17

Here's the comparison chart, for what it's worth at this point in the season. Keep in mind that Tennessee's numbers have been compiled against the 23rd-most difficult schedule and Florida's numbers have been compiled against the 83rd-most difficult schedule. For those of you more interested in advanced stats, you can find them here (Tennessee's | Florida's).

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 17 246 7 55.3 Oklahoma None Oklahoma 60
61 147.7 129
Tennessee passing offense vs. Florida passing defense 97 189 57 202.7 Oklahoma None Oklahoma 125
65 213.3 125
Tennessee rushing defense vs. Florida rushing offense 70 158 81 170 Bowling Green Oklahoma Bowling Green Oklahoma 140
93 153.7 68 182.3 124 161
Tennessee passing defense vs. Florida passing offense 81 236.7 59 238 None Oklahoma/BG OK/BG 180
6/1 371/455.7 187/433
Tennessee scoring offense vs. Florida scoring defense 13 46 20 15.3 Oklahoma None Oklahoma 17
53 21.7 17
Tennessee scoring defense vs. Florida scoring offense 64 23.7 44 35.3 None BG/Oklahoma BG/OK 20
29/23 39.7/41.3 30/17