The Vols look to exorcise over a decade's worth of demons this Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium in front of a sold out crowd and a national TV audience. We fans are all well aware of the many things that have gone so wrong in this game over the past 11 tries, and we're all well aware that the confidence we felt about this game over the summer has undergone a bit of a transformation over the first three games. So where does that leave us? Much more uncomfortable than we'd hoped, but still hopeful, provided the team we see on Saturday is the one we'd been imagining over the summer based on the one we saw last year. Here's how the team we've seen the last three weeks makes that leap.
Get back to the basics
The Vols under Butch Jones have consistently been a well-disciplined squad. They were in the Top 30 in all penalty categories tracked by the NCAA from 2013 all the way through the end of 2015, and they were mostly Top 10 in the last two years. Through three games so far this year, they're instead among the worst in college football and are giving up nearly 70 yards in penalties per game. This is correctable, and with yards at a premium this Saturday afternoon, the Vols can't afford to be giving them away for free.
Move Josh Dobbs
I'm not just talking about using Dobbs to run the ball more often, either, although that is certainly part of it. Defenses have problems with him when he runs, so let's do that.
But just as important is not leaving him stationary in the pocket for any length of time. Florida's defensive line is trouble, and it could be downright dangerous if Tennessee is unable to correct some of the deficiencies we've seen on the offensive line in the first three games. I don't believe I would call more than a handful of pocket passes for Dobbs and even then maybe only in non-obvious passing situations. Otherwise, have him hand off, run, or roll out and decide. The coaching staff needs to have a plan for third down that doesn't involve painting a bullseye on his back and tying his shoestrings together.
Turn up the heat on defense
With quarterback Luke Del Rio out, we're going to see a relatively inexperienced new quarterback getting his first SEC start in Neyland on Gameday in front 102,455 ravenous orange and white checkered fans out to prove that Knoxville is louder than Iowa City. One of the problems with inexperienced quarterbacks, though, is that any tendency to get rattled easily turns into beginner's confidence unless you keep them rattled. The Vols have the defensive line to do just that, and with a few well-timed blitzes, they should be able to keep the new quarterback uncomfortable for most of the game. Don't let him just survey the field and either succeed or ho-hum fail after making a choice and a throw. Make him wonder what in the world just happened as he peels himself off the turf.
Empty the Bucket
Hat tip to Inky Johnson for the phrase. Every single person on the staff, team, and in the stands must turn every dial to 10 for this one. We don't know whether the coaches have been playing coy with their options in the first few games, but let's just say that as much as the idea of that irritates us, we hope it's true because any other explanation is much more disturbing. So, now's the time to light a fire under every coach, every player, ever staff member. And now's the time to cook up a few batches of scripted plays that break tendencies and build on each other to set up big offensive plays. And now's the time to use every single drop of everything you have at your disposal, to play like you want to win by 50 for every single second of all 60 minutes. Now is the time to empty the bucket.
Before I show you what the early season statsy caculator spit out this week, let me show you what it doesn't know and what I used to adjust my guesses (sources, TN, FL):
Pay particular attention to the column labeled "Opp. S&P+ Rk." I'm thinking it matters.
So with that in mind, here are the tables. And my score prediction for the game is Tennessee 24, Florida 16. Go get 'em.
Processing Tennessee vs. Florida.
|Tennessee||Florida||Comps||Result against Comps||Guess|
|Next Worst||Next Best||Next Worst||Next Best|
|Tennessee rushing offense vs. Florida rushing defense||189.0||42.3||Ohio||None||Ohio||None||160|
|Tennessee passing offense vs. Florida passing defense||162.0||87.3||Appalachian State||Virginia Tech||Appalachian State||Virginia Tech||150|
|Tennessee rushing defense vs. Florida rushing offense||152.7||202.0||Appalachian State||Virginia Tech||Appalachian State||Virginia Tech||180|
|Tennessee passing defense vs. Florida passing offense||184.0||264.0||Ohio||None||Ohio||None||150|
|Tennessee scoring offense vs. Florida scoring defense||31.0||4.7||Virginia Tech||None||Virginia Tech||None||28|
|Tennessee scoring defense vs. Florida scoring offense||18.7||33.7||Appalachian State||Virginia Tech||Appalachian State||Virginia Tech||14|
Processing Florida vs. Tennessee.
|Florida||Tennessee||Comps||Result against Comps||Guess|
|Next Worst||Next Best||Next Worst||Next Best|
|Florida rushing offense vs. Tennessee rushing defense||202.0||152.7||North Texas||Massachusetts||North Texas||Massachusetts||150|
|Florida passing offense vs. Tennessee passing defense||264.0||184.0||North Texas||None||North Texas||None||150|
|Florida rushing defense vs. Tennessee rushing offense||42.3||189.0||North Texas||Kentucky||North Texas||Kentucky||150|
|Florida passing defense vs. Tennessee passing offense||87.3||162.0||None||North Texas||None||North Texas||150|
|Florida scoring offense vs. Tennessee scoring defense||33.7||18.7||Massachusetts||None||Massachusetts||None||17|
|Florida scoring defense vs. Tennessee scoring offense||4.7||31.0||North Texas||Kentucky||North Texas||Kentucky||20|